The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – 2011

Christmas evening is always a good time to go out to a movie. Candy, Lee and I went to see a family feel-good film,  The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

I had not read the book(s), nor seen the 2009 Swedish film (though I have now started the Swedish version on Netflix and have put the books in my queue, after I get some required reading done).

I very seldom go out to see films anymore – which is odd, since that was a big part of my life for so very long. One reason is that the very act of moviegoing has changed. Like so much of modern life it has become a mass phenomenon, an act of the herd instinct. The local mall grandstand seating googleplex is now the standard – thousands run through the entertainment machine – extracting money and delivering a couple of hours of tepid entertainment.

It has been so long this is the first time I noticed that the refreshment stands manned by local teenagers are being replaced by large touchscreens attached to complex vending machines.

Movie going to me has been a solitary, or at most an activity for two. Sitting there in the dark, peering at the screen, lost in the story. Now, the place is always packed for the hot new release and people keep streaming in after the film starts, wandering up and down the steep stairs looking for nonexistent empty seats. Their travels are framed by a constellation of smart phones lit up by audience members getting in some text messaging while the movie begins.

I even miss the endless silly static advertisement cards that used to rotate by during the interminable wait before the film started while cheesy music played over some pitiful portable picnic player. They were blurry slides for local clothing stores, Italian restaurants, or used car dealers. Now, the advertisements that run during the slack times are loud, slick and have better CGI production qualities than the movies themselves.

At any rate, I get over my old-fartedness and the movie starts. And it was good.

The direction, acting, cinematography was all top-notch. As you have been hearing, Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander is a revelation. I think the whole film can be summed up in the split-second look on her face when Mikael says to her, “I want you to help me find a killer of women.” Daniel Craig does not have as splashy a part – but his performance is every bit as important – and much more subtle. His character has an inner core of goodness wrapped in a clock of confusion. Mikael Blomkvist is smarter than he thinks he is – and that is hard to portray.

I think I approached the film in the right frame of mind. The book is a complex whodunit and there is no way they can get all that stuff up on the screen. So I paid no attention to the “mystery” at all. The guilty person is one of a set of candidates, and it didn’t really matter to the emotional heart of the film which one it was. I simply let the detectives detect.

She is watching the detectives
“Ooh, he’s so cute”
She is watching the detectives
When they shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot
They beat him up until the teardrops start
But he can’t be wounded ’cause he’s got no heart

Long shot at that jumping sign
Invisible shivers running down my spine
Cut to baby taking off her clothes
Close-up of the sign that says “We never close”
He snatches at you and you match his cigarette
She pulls the eyes out with a face like a magnet
I don’t know how much more of this I can take

She’s filing her nails while they’re dragging the lake

—-Watching the Detectives, by Elvis Costello

After a school of red herrings swim by and the hairy McGuffin fades from importance, there will be a revelation, the hero will be rescued at the last moment, and a twist that you should have seen coming (I did) will appear as if by magic. All boilerplate. We’ve been here before. Hitchcock did it best a half-century ago, so let it fall from the screen.

What makes the film work are the characters and the relationships – and that is what I concentrated on. The film is really not about a locked-door murder on an ice-bound island, it is about Lisbeth Salander and her struggle, against all odds, to become a human being. You see, they tell you that in the English title. The Swedish title (Män som hatar kvinnor – “Men Who Hate Women”) is more descriptive about the plot, but not the heart, of the story.

A couple quibbles… First, I really didn’t like the scene that played over the opening credits. It was slick, expensive, and visually impressive – black oil-like viscous CGI liquid splashing all over everything while Karen O sings her version of Zepplin’s “Immigrant Song” – but it had nothing to do with the rest of the movie. The music was fine – I would have preferred simply wintry shots of bleak Scandinavian scenery. That would have fit the mood better. What we saw was simply showing off.

The movie struggles with the awkward construction of the novel. The two main characters don’t even really meet (well, one meets the other, but not the other way around) until the film is about half over. This works fine in print, but feels disjointed on the screen. You want to say, “Just get on with it.”

There at the end too, the international finance part, seemed a bit out of character to me. I understand the revenge motive, and the desire to help out “my friend,” but still, it was a little much. Again, I thought it was showing off.

Still, quibbles aside, I enjoyed the film and look forward to the books, and the Swedish version, and the sequels, and the Swedish sequels, and the inevitable spinoffs (HBO series?)….

Oh, the motorcycle was way cool.

This long trailer contains a few spoilers. Also, watching it right after seeing the movie – I can notice the subtle censoring of the trailer (necessary). I have a rule, I don’t wear clothing with words on it (I don’t like being an unpaid advertisement – well, except for my employer… they give me shirts for free) but the black t-shirt Lisbeth Salander is wearing when Mikael first shows up at her place has a pretty cool saying on it (it’s blotted out in the trailer).

WordPress Blogs on the film (a small selection, here’s how to find them):