Here there be dragon tattoos

Friday night, Sweetie and I watched the David Fincher version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. We've watched all three of the Swedish films. We've read all the books (more than once in Sweetie's case, as is her wont).

I have to admit that I came to the film needing to be convinced. I had loved the books (though not always Stieg Larsson's verbosity and obsession with detail). I loved the Swedish films of the books, the second a little less than the others, which corresponded to how I felt about the books. I loved the characterization. Noomi Rapace was totally Lisbeth Salander for me, both in how she looked and in how she behaved. I loved the other portrayals as well. Michael Nyqvist was an excellent Mikael—still handsome, but a little shopworn. Lena Endre as Erika was similar, and I thought they were good together. At the same time, I loved The Social Network, and lots of people had told me that Fincher's version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was very good.

I thought it was very good, but I didn't like it as much as the Swedish version. I'm trying to figure out just why. For one thing, the opening of the American version almost put me off the film entirely. Cool video, cool version of "The Immigrant Song" sung by Karen O, but what did it have to do with the film? I thought it would have been a good opener for a sci-fi thriller. But that's not what The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is.

Fortunately, the opening credits really did not seem to have anything to do with the film. We got right into the story of Mikael losing the libel suit and Lisbeth doing a background check on him for Henrik Vanger. The story moved along well in its separate threads until Lisbeth and Mikael finally come together.

Casting was mostly solid. Rooney Mara truly looked the part of Lisbeth. Daniel Craig is a similar type to Michael Nyqvist. Robin Wright fit the look of Erika. Christopher Plummer was what I expected of Vanger. Stellan Skarsgard made a very good Martin Vanger. The only actor who for me did not fit the part was Goran Visnjic as Dragan Armansky—too young (in real life), too handsome. I also imagined Holger Palmgren to be older, as he was in the Swedish films.

Something seemed a little off to me though. With the Swedish version, I felt like I was seeing a good, reasonably accurate condensation of the book. It "felt" like the book. Here, I felt like I was seeing a somewhat different story. That's not necessarily bad. A film should not stick slavishly to the novel or short story on which it's based. Some things need to be changed for film. But even though this film pretty much told the story, I found some of the changes jarring.

One of them was not the changed ending (of one of the stories, not of the film). I didn't mind that, and I thought it worked just as well for the story as the original ending. There were other things, subtle things. One that struck me was how terrified Bjurman looked when Lisbeth confronted him in the elevator. As afraid as Bjurman was of Lisbeth releasing the evidence on him, he was really much more enraged than afraid. His pure hatred for Lisbeth for what she had done to him overcame his fear. So that felt like a false note. I also didn't like the part that Mikael's daughter played in solving the mystery, which differed from the original plot. Why was that done? If anything, that takes away from how we see Lisbeth.

And ultimately it's Lisbeth who is the heart of this story, and of any film of the story. I liked a lot about Mara's portrayal, or Fincher's direction, or perhaps both. But the main problem I think I sense is that the characterization of Lisbeth lacks subtlety. Rapace's Lisbeth is more enigmatic. You really can't quite figure her out, just as you can't in the book (for a long time). Mara got a lot of it right, but overall I think she made Lisbeth too...human. Too approachable. I love the Lisbeth of the book because she has this power to draw me in despite her weirdness. I love Rapace's Lisbeth for the same reason. But in the American's film, it's almost as if Fincher didn't trust his character or his audience. He wanted to be sure that we liked Lisbeth. In doing so, he took something away from her.

I think that comes out strongly in the relationship between her and Mikael. In the book and the Swedish film, they have sex (when she wants to) and work together. They never really get close, because Lisbeth really doesn't know how to get close—and really, neither does Mikael. They respect each other's work, Lisbeth somewhat reluctantly. She does indeed fall in love with Mikael, in her own way, but she never shows him. The closeness we see in the American film is out of character. That's why, in the book and the original film, it hurts so much when she realizes that things aren't as she had imagined them. They couldn't have been, because that was mostly in her head. Mikael never knew how Lisbeth felt about him because she had no idea how to show him. And, of course, she fell in love with the wrong person, someone who wasn't capable of reciprocating anyway.

Ultimately, Fincher's version is just a bit too Hollywood for me. Not as much as it might have been, but enough to take away from things I love about the story. I didn't groan like I did about the ridiculous changes that were made to The Help, but I was disappointed—disappointed that Fincher couldn't quite let a brilliant story tell itself. While I enjoyed his version, he has mostly made me want to see the Swedish version again.

1 comment:

Véronique said...

The Blogger interface messed me up. I deleted a comment by mistake instead of publishing it. In it, the commentator brought up that Pernilla, Mikael's daughter, was indeed the one who solved the mystery of the numbers. My bad for working from memory, which was obviously faulty. Sorry for deleting the comment, and thank you for the correction.