I always figured I’d read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo before I saw the movie — either of the movies, actually — but my to-read list is kinda ridiculous, and my interest just wasn’t there. So last week, I finally just sat down and watched the Swedish film.
It’s a fairly entertaining movie. But I had some problems with it that I honestly wasn’t expecting to have.
Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), a disgraced journalist, is hired to look into the mystery of a woman who’s been missing for a super long time. Goth hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) helps. A lot.
1. Cosplay is a fun but hideously expensive hobby sometimes, especially if you don’t actually know how to make shit. What’s challenging but infinitely cheaper: Five Minute Cosplay. To do this, take five minutes and find whatever you can around your house to make into a costume. I thought my five minute Lisbeth Salander turned out pretty well, actually.
Admittedly, it would’ve been better if I had a nose ring. Dammit. You know at least three random strangers came up to me when I was eighteen and told me I would look good with a nose ring? I should have listened to them.
2. Okay, fine. I guess we can actually talk about the movie now.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is two and a half hours long, and in its defense, those two and half hours go by relatively fast. I like mysteries, and I had a good time trying to unravel this one and correctly guess what happened to young Harriet Vanger. (I was . . . half-right. We’ll discuss that later in the Spoiler Section.) So, I was never bored, and that’s a big plus.
That being said . . . I think this movie is longer than it needs to be because it devotes a serious chunk of time to a subplot I feel could easily have been cut from the film with no real adverse effects on the main story. And the subplot I’m referring to — I won’t go into details for the three of you who haven’t read the book and/or seen either film — well, it includes the movie’s most controversial scenes, and while I wasn’t anticipating having a problem with those scenes going in . . . they actually did end up becoming a pretty big issue for me.
Cause look . . . anyone who reads this blog with any regularity knows I like a lot of violent movies. I love big fight scenes and I love gory entrails and I don’t have much of a problem with cartoonish levels of violence. Someone’s head explodes in some cheap splatterfest flick, you know, I don’t need a lot of justification for it. But this . . . this felt different to me. This actually felt gratuitous, and that’s a not a word I use lightly for film criticism (because it annoys the hell out of me when other people do). But the level of brutality in these scenes . . . I don’t object to them on their own. I object, rather, because they not only belong to an unnecessary storyline, that storyline takes time away from delving into other important aspects of the story.
So, yeah. Ultimately, I wasn’t a fan.
3. On the plus side, I really like both Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace. Let’s take one at a time, shall we?
When you hear about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, you mostly hear about Noomi Rapace’s excellent performance. And I definitely like Rapace — we’ll get to her in a minute — but I think Nyqvist is also really good here. Blomkvist is actually a hard role, in some respects, because he’s an idealistic everyman protagonist — and I think we all know just how boring those guys can be. But there’s a lot of subtle nuances in Nyqvist’s performance that makes him more of a compelling lead than some might give him credit for. (Also, I just realized Nyqvist is the main villain from Mission Impossible IV: Ghost Protocol, and good lord, do they waste him in that movie.)
I do wonder a bit how Daniel Craig’s version of Blomkvist compares. I have this sneaking suspicion that the American version might make him into a bit more of an action hero.
And then, of course, we have Noomi Rapace, who deserves all the praise she’s received for this role. I like her a lot as Lisbeth Salander. Lisbeth’s an interesting sort of heroine — damaged, badass women aren’t entirely a new concept, but they often end up either crying naked in a shower or crying in the arms of a strong, tender man. Lisbeth doesn’t do any of that. And her character requires a certain amount of nuance too — her emotions have to be tightly shut away, but she can’t come off as entirely unfeeling and robotic. I think Rapace does a good job bringing Lisbeth to life.
4. Lisbeth and Mikael take ages to actually meet up. Seriously. It takes more than an hour for our two heroes to come face to face. When they finally do . . . I’ve got mixed feelings on it. I like certain aspects of their relationship. They’re very different people with very different ideas on how to handle obstacles in their path, so watching the conflict between them in that respect is pretty interesting. But other aspects of their relationship move far too fast for me.
5. Finally — because I don’t have much to talk about with using spoilers — can I just mention that Swedish prisons seem ridiculously nice? And the Swedish court system just baffles me? Like, I admittedly don’t have a lot of experience with being arrested — not yet — but I kind of figured, if you were found guilty of a crime and sentenced to jail time, you know, you didn’t get six months to hang out with your family at home before you made roll call at prison. I mean, really, is that normal? Am I just missing something?
Should I decide to become a criminal mastermind, maybe I should consider moving to Sweden.
So, Blomkvist has been framed for libel and is going to jail for a few months. At first, that seemed like an awfully harsh prison sentence for saying mean things about someone until I realized that Blomkvist didn’t just call somebody a criminal; he supposedly planted evidence on them as well. So, okay, that can get you some prison time . . . eventually. But first you get to hang out and do whatever you want for half a year, whether that be spending time with your family for the holidays or tracking down a woman who’s been missing for about four decades.
Henrik Vanger’s niece, Harriet, used to send him a dried flower every year on his birthday. One would assume that would all stop after she (presumably) died, but he keeps getting these flowers and assumes the killer is taunting him. My first thought: Damn that’s cold. My second: Or, hey, maybe she’s alive. And then I just kind of forgot all about the flowers, which is unfortunate since my second thought was actually correct.
Vanger trusts Blomkvist to do the job because he hires Lisbeth to check him out. Lisbeth works for some kind of security company as a researcher/hacker person, and it’s her professional (if grudging) opinion that Blomkvist didn’t do any of the bad stuff he’s been accused of.
Unfortunately, Lisbeth has problems of her own, namely this man:
Turns out, Lisbeth did something very naughty when she was young — we don’t know exactly what yet — so she has some kind of court appointed guardian even though she’s an adult. Her normal guardian just had a stroke, though, and it turns out that her new guardian is a perverted piece of shit who won’t give her money until she gives him a blow job. Later he beats her, ties her face down on his bed, and rapes her.
But Lisbeth has secretly taped all of this in order to blackmail him. She visits him again, but this time she ties him down, rapes him, and tattoos “I’m a sadist pig and a rapist” on his chest. And as far as the actual content goes . . . I don’t mind that she does this, exactly. Like I’m not saying rapists deserve to be raped because I don’t think they do. (Although, if I’m being honest, my sympathy for them is extremely limited.) But this isn’t about whether I think a rapist being raped is a suitable punishment. It’s just what Lisbeth does, and as I don’t necessarily find her actions out of character, I don’t take issue with them.
But here’s my problem: we don’t need any of this in the movie. Yes, I’m sure it’s all in the book, but . . . for the actual story itself . . . look, I don’t need this subplot to see how traumatized or how badass Lisbeth is. Lisbeth already had a pretty hugely tragic backstory: she protected her mother by setting her abusive father on fire. You know, I already have a good idea how far she’s willing to go. Even if Lisbeth wasn’t the one actually being abused herself . . . she’s still a survivor of a terrible childhood, and everything else she does in the movie follows that setup. She is a protector of women. She punishes men who hate them, who hurt them . . . or at least, she doesn’t feel any need to save them when they’re trapped in a car that’s about to go boom.
So, the rape/revenge storyline feels a little bit artificial to me, like Stieg Larsson was worried that the childhood trauma wasn’t enough to explain Lisbeth’s rage, like he needed to pile up the atrocities to really have his readers understand his heroine’s motivations. Which, frankly, I think is kind of silly. And maybe it works better in the book — I haven’t read it, so I don’t know. But this subplot in the movie seems out of balance: it takes away from what happened to her in the past, and if you were to cut the whole plotline from the film, it changes nothing else that happens in the story. And that’s a big issue for me.
I will say, however, that watching Lisbeth tattoo a warning into her rapist’s body was kind of good for me on a spiritual level.
Moving on. Lisbeth can’t resist hacking into Blomkvist’s computer some more and sending him some clues. He tracks her down and enlists her aid. A lot of stuff happens that I’m not going to cover because I just don’t feel like it. I will briefly talk about my other problem with this movie, though: Lisbeth’s and Blomkvist’s romantic relationship.
Now, Blomkvist seems kind of like a Feelings sort of guy, so I can see how he might take their detectives-with-benefits relationship more seriously than Lisbeth does. And at least he never uses the ‘L’ word, thank God. But I still feel like it moves way too fast, like we haven’t seen enough of them together for the depth of feeling he seems to have for her. Which actually does tie back into the rape/revenge subplot . . . because if we didn’t spend forty-five minutes on that, maybe our heroes could have met sooner and had more on-screen time together.
As far as the mystery itself goes . . . I’m a little annoyed with myself for not getting it immediately. In a way, it’s kind of predictable. I totally got that there were two killers, a father and his child. But I picked the wrong child, partially because I kept getting all the relatives confused, and partially because I have an overly suspicious mind. Because you’d think, well, if the whole theme of this movie is men hating women, then it should probably be a male suspect, right? I mean, that would make sense. But my brain’s like, yeah, if this movie wants to be obvious, okay, MAYBE. But if it was a father who trained his daughter to hate women, you know, that could be all super twist-y! Or maybe the daughter killed Harriet for some other secret reason unrelated to all this serial killer nonsense.
Basically, I just didn’t trust Cecilia from the second I saw her.
Also, I seriously had trouble keeping track of who was related to who. I tend to be kind of bad at that when I don’t actually recognize any of the actors. Anyway, I failed as Master Movie Sleuth. The real serial killer was Martin, Harriet’s brother.
Martin captures Blomkvist and tortures him for a while, nearly killing him before Lisbeth comes to the rescue. She chases Martin for a bit, and he eventually crashes his car rather spectacularly. Lisbeth has the opportunity to rescue him before he blows up. She decides to pass on the opportunity. Frankly, I probably would have too.
Here’s one thing I do really like about this movie: when Blomkvist finds out what Lisbeth has done, this is what he says: “I would never have done it, Lisbeth. But I understand why you did. I don’t know what you have experienced. But I was about to die in that cellar, and you saved my life. Whatever you have seen, you don’t need to tell me. I’m just happy you’re here.”
What’s this? A non-histrionic, utterly reasonable response from one lover to another? SURELY NOT.
By the end of the movie, we find out that Harriet actually escaped to Australia before Martin had the chance to murder her. (And ugh! Another thing I almost called — because the second I saw that picture of Supposed Harriet at the Window, I was like, you know, that might not actually be Harriet . . . and then promptly forgot all about it as the movie continued. Why has my mind turned against me? What do I need to be eating to improve my memory? Carrots? Shit, that’s vision isn’t it? Well, clearly, it’s not my Frosted Strawberry Pop-Tarts because my deductive reasoning abilities apparently failed me during this movie. Blarg.)
Harriet comes back and has a nice reunion with her uncle — who shockingly doesn’t die in this film, despite having a mid-movie heart attack. Blomkvist goes to prison. Lisbeth visits him and gives him the proof he needs to take down the guy who framed him for libel. That guy dies — maybe he kills himself — and she steals a shitload of his money while wearing a blonde wig.
And I guess that’s about it really.
It’s a decent mystery with two really good leads, and I had a good time watching it for the most part. But I also wanted to reshape the holy HELL out of that first hour.
Er, revenge is good?