The girl who watched The Dragon Tattoo

I am not someone who believes you should read the book before you watch the movie, or that you should read the book after the movie. Books and films are two separate mediums and I consider them to be two separate art forms and should be judged on their own merits.

Having said that, when I first saw the trailer for David Fincher’s adaptation of Steig Larsson’s international best-seller, I bought the book. The day I finished it, I saw the movie.

Now, I am someone who believes that if you are going to model your film after a book (especially when you use the book’s fame to your advantage, as is the case with Dragon Tattoo), your film should keep the integrity of the original art form in tact. That is to say if you are basing your movie on a book, play, true events, or other work, it should stay concordant with the message or ‘heart’ of the original. I have seen a ridiculous amount of Shakespearian productions that, despite changing the setting, vernacular and even gender roles, all manage to artfully reiterate the original play’s message. If a movie is “inspired” by something (as is the theme of many horror movie marketing schemes today), then anything goes. Artists can draw inspiration from anywhere to make anything.

Fincher’s film version of  The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo succeeds in almost every way imaginable in capturing Larsson’s original story, characters and even tone. It is an impressive work with great performances, a phenomenal score and a picturesque setting taken directly from Larsson’s words. There are deviations from the original, but even these tweaks are perfectly understandable given the time and budgetary restraints film demands. Overall I would have to rate  Dragon Tattoo highly, and recommend it to those who are psychologically equipped to handle the disturbing content.

I do have one problem with the film; it omits the novel’s largest moral conundrum and thereby insufficiently reiterates Larsson’s message.

*I may reveal some key plot points in the novel and film, please do not continue reading if you wish to read/see Dragon Tattoo unencumbered by my opinion*

Once it is revealed that Martin is a sadomasochistic serial-killer (a pivotal point in both the novel and film) who also incestuously abused his sister, nothing of consequence happens. Martin dies (arguably by his own hands), but  his evil secret perishes with him; he is not exposed to the public as a monster, rather his death is mourned and procedures are taken to replace his station as CEO of the Vanger corporation. Now, obviously those involved in the sordid case, Blomkvist, Salander, Frode, Henrik and Harriet Vanger, know the truth, however each of them decides to keep Martin’s hideous life a secret in hopes of making Harriet’s life (and the lives of all those connected to the Vanger corporation) better.

My favorite part of the book is Blomkvist’s moral grappling with the issue of exposing Martin. Larsson outlines his thoughts on the issue from both sides and also identifies the psychological exhaustion Blomkvist feels by being placed in such a harried situation. This is an important piece of the message of Dragon Tattoo. Throughout the novel Larsson presents the reader with alarming facts about unreported violence against women in Sweden and within the story itself readers are given case after case of untried atrocities inflicted upon female victims. The facts are staggering, the cases appalling, and the lack of closure is maddening…and yet…you can almost sympathize with Blomkvist, or at the very least understand how he can mentally walk away from Martin’s torture chamber knowing the families of his victims may never find closure. His ultimate rationalization makes him in no way a hero, but surprisingly doesn’t villainize him either. The greater society that Blomkvist represents is clear in the novel, but only touched upon in the film.

I can understand why this internal moral struggle was nixed from the film, I don’t agree with the decision, but can understand the reasoning behind it.

2 Responses to “The girl who watched The Dragon Tattoo”
  1. I haven’t read the books, but I definitely loved this movie and the Swedish version, as well. You make a good point about the lack of Blomkvist’s struggle with Martin’s deeds going unpunished after his death in Fincher’s version; I hadn’t really thought about it until I read your post. In the Swedish version, after Blomkvist is rescued he waits for the police at Martin’s house and tells them to look in the cellar. The repercussions of the police discovering the torture chamber are not mentioned, but having the police at the house gives the audience some hope that Martin’s nasty secrets won’t be secrets for much longer. Being a total sucker for movies, I’m glad I found your blog!

    • psychcine says:

      Thanks so much for your comment! I’m really looking forward to seeing the Swedish film, I’ve actually heard that it is a much better adaptation of the novel. If you have the time, I highly recommend reading the book – I just picked up the second in Larsson’s Millennium
      Trilogy as I am thoroughly addicted 🙂

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