Monday, December 26, 2011

Some Thoughts on "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

One of my greatest hobbies is viewing film adaptations of books. I love watching and critiquing the movies and mini-series made from books I've read (and sometimes even before I've read them--gasp!).

Some adaptations fail utterly (and as a book junky, I can't help being just a bit pleased when that happens). Others are incredibly faithful to their texts (see Pillars of the Earth, for instance). Some I end up liking better than the book (like the 2011 adaptation of Jane Eyre). And some I must acknowledge as valid interpretations, even if they aren't true to my impressions; David Fincher's adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is one of these.

I say this for several reasons:
  1. The original Swedish film by Niels Arden Opley is excellent. So, perhaps I was already biased toward the first version.
  2. I read this review by Monika Bartyzel from Girls on Film before seeing it. 
  3. And finally, many of the changes Fincher chose to make distance the story not just from Opley's version, but from Stieg Larsson's.
I don't want to take you through every little difference that I noticed, so I'll focus specifically on the key one: Lisbeth Salander.

Let me just illustrate how I feel about Larsson's protagonist: she is a badass. There is simply no other word for it. In the novels, she is described as 5-foot something, roughly 100 pounds or so, child-like, anorexic-looking--and she manages to wreak havoc on anyone she has reason to act against. As a 5'2", 110 pound woman, this is a heroine I relate to on a physical level. And I think she's awesome.

In the Swedish film, Opley's Salander preserves the badass-ery of Larsson's. I mean, look at her:

Would you mess with that girl? I sure as heck wouldn't!

Although she's victimized throughout the entire movie by various men, I get the sense that she's got this core of diamond--something absolutely unbreakable within her. Yes, she's aloof, strange, socially awkward, an enigma, but she's supposed to be. As a person, she's very guarded. No one ever truly knows all that's going on in her head, maybe not even Salander herself. And I like that rough-edged air of mystery around her.

Fincher's Salander, on the other hand, fits a bit more neatly into the Bond girl/sidekick mold, as Bartyzel points out. For instance, check out the image to the left, of Rooney Mara as Salander.

The rough edges are gone. She looks soft, fragile, sad, and maybe even scared. While Fincher's Salander still does all the badass things that Larsson's and Opley's do, she's somehow less sure of herself. She practically becomes half of a couple with Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig). She heroically saves his life, but then asks him for permission before chasing down the bad guy. And in the film's final scene when she spots Blomkvist back with his old lover, Erika Berger (Robin Wright), she looks positively heartbroken.

Now, I'm not saying this is a bad thing. Salander is a tough character to connect to, and Fincher's choice to break down some of her barriers will make her more likeable to audiences. And in that regard, I can see the validity of his decisions regarding Salander in light of questions of audience.

But, personally I like the more enigmatic Salander. The one that doesn't need Daniel Craig (or any other man, for that matter) to coddle or protect her. The one that is frustratingly obstinate and taciturn, even in the most dire of situations. In short, the one that takes more time, patience, and effort on the part of the reader/audience member to get to know, because to me that's more true to life and to who Lisbeth Salander is.

Other thoughts, opinions?

And as a side note, I hope everyone has been having a great holiday season!

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