Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

Written by:
Emily S. Mendel
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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

Directed by: Niels Arden Oplev
Starring: Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Lena Endre, Sven-Bertil Taube
Screenplay by: Rasmus Heisterberg, Nikolaj Arcel, based on the book by Stieg Larsson
Run Time: 152 minutes
In Swedish with English subtitles


The first comment I have about film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is that its images remain vivid to me. The second comment is that I wish some of those images would disappear from my head.

A haunting and relentless film, based on the novel by Steig Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo concerns a disgraced investigative journalist, Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) and a tattooed, deeply troubled, asocial but indomitable computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace). They are hired to solve the 40-year-old disappearance of Harriet Vanger, a member of the rich secretive industrialist Vanger family.

Harriet Vanger had disappeared from the Vangers’ private island when the bridge to the mainland was closed. Her beloved uncle is convinced that she was murdered by one of his family. This plot device of a limited group of suspects on an island or in a train compartment has been used successfully by Agatha Christie, among others, and it works here as well.

Interspersing the main theme, are glimpses of Lisbeth Salander’s difficult life. Apparently because of prior inpatient psychiatric treatment, she is required to have a guardian until she is twenty-five. With only one year to go, her newly appointed guardian is cruelly and sexually abusive to Lisbeth.

She takes grisly vengeance on her disgusting guardian. Although he deserves the harshest punishment, her retribution is shocking and gruesome – and in full view of the audience.

Lisbeth’s behavior and character are well explored in the film and Noomi Rapace’s performance as Lisbeth is near perfect. Mikael Blomkvist’s persona is less developed, although Michael Nyqvist plays his role with sensitivity. Yes, Mikael Blomkvist is based on author Stieg Larsson, but his motivation and background remain unclear in the movie. He is the character around which the plot swirls.

For most of Steig Larsson’s tireless writing career, he wrote books and magazine articles about the dangers of right-wing extremism and neo-Nazism. A lover of American and English mysteries, Larsson planned to write 10 mystery novels based on detailed synopsizes he had written.

His first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, was published only a few months after his sudden death at age 50. Prior to his 2004 death, Larsson had completed two other novels, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, which, with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo form his “Millennium” trilogy.

Since I haven’t read the novel on which the film is based, I can spare my readers the inevitable comparison in which the novel is found to be superior to the film. In fact, I started the book, but found the sentence structure and translation a bit off-putting, and the pace, slow moving. I guess I put down the book just before the plot took off.

I am in a tiny minority, as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is one of the decade’s major literary success stories, selling over 8,000,000 copies worldwide. Larsson’s novels have become global sensations, elevating Larsson to the world’s second best-selling author last year (behind The Kite Runner‘s Khaled Hosseini).

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is 2009’s highest-grossing European film. There is talk about an English language version of the film being made in Hollywood. I’m sure that it will be worse than the current version, which makes superb use of the Scandinavian dark and cold and benefits from the look and feel of a Swedish film.

Once the mystery of Harriet Vanger’s disappearance gets going, the film becomes fast-paced, tense and atmospheric. Blomkvist and Salander ultimately discover the link between a series of grotesque murders and Harriet’s disappearance and, ultimately, solve the mystery.

The violence, rape and torture scenes were hard to watch. But for those scenes, I would recommend The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo without reservation. With the depravities, I recommend the film with a strong caution.

Emily S. Mendel
(c)Emily S. Mendel 2010   All Rights Reserved

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