Fincher’s Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Converts A Hater
By Alex Cranz
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a funny film. Not as in a curiosity but as in humorous. Scenes in this film had the audience around me chuckling with laughter. Once it was a bit of wryly expressed hatred spewed from Christopher Plummer’s mouth. Another time it was Blomkvist tripping while running from a murderer. The sodomy of a villain left the audience chortling throughout. Delighting and finding humor in his pain and humiliation.
This was an audience of parents, teachers, writers, lawyers and retailers. These were average people who probably would never watch Rape Squad willingly and no doubt sort of wished they were in the theater next door where Tom Cruise was crashing through windows a mile over Dubai before the theater darkened and Trent Reznor’s harsh revisiting of Led Zepplin’s “Immigrant Song” played over imagery of women, men and beasts suffocating in dark oil.
As the film played we were all sucked into Larsson’s world in a way I never imagined. I hated the original book. Found it exploitative and accidentally misogynistic. I respected Larrson’s attempt at writing about the plight of women, the misogyny in murder and the failings of the Swedish welfare state but I’ve always felt he completely missed the mark in how he handled women and I felt his Mikael Blomkvist was nothing more than an authorial avatar out to hook up with every woman possible.
Fincher doesn’t particularly like Blomkvist, the wronged journalists hired by an industrial family to investigate a forty-year old murder, and Daniel Craig plays him like a sexy young reporter stuck out in the sticks with a lot of gumption but no common sense. He’s a bit hapless and naive. He bumbles. He doesn’t solve crimes as much as stare at photographs for hours willing them to give up their secrets. His moments of cleverness–excellence–are all based on intuition rather than facts. He’s the doll in a 40s gumshoe film but with rippling pectorals and a penchant for male privilege.
Lisbeth Salander is the real star of this movie. And the real hero. A twenty-something ward of the state tasked with the illegal jobs by her security firm. She swaggers into the film like she doesn’t care. She’s all leather and punk and shades of Hot Topic and electrifying. In the book she’s meant to be an avenger of the wronged and particularly of women but she often feels more like an amalgam of broken promises and sexy anime conventions smashed together to titillate an author with power fantasies.
With Fincher’s direction we’re never asked to pity her. He doesn’t implore us to understand Salander and become fascinated by her. Characters sometimes make such an overture but they’re hollow, especially in the face of Salander. Rooney Mara completely embodies the character. She’s rage and fragility. Strength and intelligence. She moves through the film like a robot. Going from scene to scene with an unwavering focus. Fincher doesn’t have to ask us to be fascinated because Mara makes it so.
She gives Salander a soul. She colors in the lines Fincher and screenwriter Steven Zaillian have painted. After a series of books and films that left me feeling cold and alienated these three (and especially Mara) have created a Lisbeth Salander that I get.
And they’ve put her in a damn interesting movie full of fascists and Nazis and serial killers. This film makes embezzlement interesting. It makes multiple scenes of rape and assault almost bearable. The murder mystery becomes simplified and all the more intriguing in this film. A girl disappears on an island where a body could never be hidden. What happened to her and who murdered her? And why does the murder still send her uncle gifts forty years later? The aforementioned group of reprehensible people are our players. Blomkvist a man suddenly finding himself in the role of sidekick and Salander our hero.
Steven Zaillian’s script is nothing short of triumphant when compared to the source material. He takes a long and unwieldy book that drifts onto tangents and gives it focus. The murder investigation. Blomkvist’s financial problems. These things become background noise. Something to give us a break from the story of Lisbeth Salander and who she is. A murder mystery becomes a character study in Zaillian’s word processor.
Under Fincher’s direction a sophomoric attempt at mystery and sex is turned into a true thriller. But Fincher’s clear contempt for the commercially successful subject matter is on display in many scenes. He doesn’t like these characters and his misanthropic streak is never stronger as when Lisbeth mutilates a man or Blomkvist, ostensibly the hero of this tale, bumbles through an action set piece. The only character Fincher seems to like is Lisbeth. He respects her and her intelligence. He finds her admirable, perhaps because she, like Fincher is often misanthropic and her actions. The director and characters seem cut from the same cloth and it’s an utterly fascinating one.