David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
A lot of controversy has recently arisen over director David Fincher’s (The Social Network, Zodiac, Fight Club, Se7en) new trailer for the upcoming American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Some commentators on various sites have raised a number of arguments regarding Fincher’s new film, scheduled for release December 21 this year (26 in the , explaining the date on the image above). Various snippets of comments I’ve seen are as follows: “I don’t understand why they’re making it again… The Swedish films were made so recently… This is an unnecessary remake… Why are they doing this again… If you’re too lazy to read subtitles [of the Swedish version], you’re really missing out…”
So on and so forth.
My response to all these criticisms is reasonably simple. Niels Arden Oplev and Daniel Alfredson’s Swedish renditions of author Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium” trilogy (so-called because of the name of the magazine the series revolves around) are some of the biggest offenses in film.
The series, penned by the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson, is comprised of three novels: Män som hatar kvinnor, literally “Men Who Hate Women” (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo); Flickan som lekte med elden (The Girl Who Played with Fire); and Luftslottet som sprängdes, literally “The Air Castle that Blew” (The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest). Larsson intended the trilogy to be a distressing examination on ’s infamous history of sexual violence against women, but the Swedish films feel wrong, even misogynist in its mistranslation of the text unto the big screen. Lisbeth Salander – the female hacker/punk feminist figure that’s captivated the literary world – is an appealing character because of her own unfaltering strength in the face of a misogynist and corrupt world (hence the title: “Men Who Hate Women”) She’s a monstrous, hatred-consuming figure who struggles to find tranquility and at times, sanity. Witnessing her mother beaten to the point of permanent brain damage by a sadistic father, Salander harbors intense abhorrence and disgust towards much of the world. Herself a victim of incessant physical, mental, and sexual abuse throughout her entire life, she utilizes her expert computer hacking abilities (besting even Jesse Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network) to take revenge on the treacherous men who torment her. In the Swedish films, actress Noomi Rapace proves herself a groundbreaking figure of potent energy as Lisbeth Salander. Nevertheless, the material she received from the Swedish filmmakers ultimately desecrated the potential for true analysis on the sexploitation of women, instead itself becoming simplistic “rape and revenge” sexploitation (see: I Spit on Your Grave, The Hills Have Eyes, The Last House on the Left).
The Swedish films are insultingly one-dimensional, with the film’s depictions of rape senselessly and excessively indulgent and Salander seen ultimately leaving an early female lover in favor of Millennium investigative journalist and babe-magnet Mikhail Blomkvist [honestly, this guy is like James Bond (appropriate for Daniel Craig then, huh?) since he has sex with nearly all the female characters]. Does anyone consider it a bit off-putting that the film finds that exchanging a female lover for Blomkvist as a demonstration of Salander’s stabilizing mentality? The film finds itself ultimately becoming the sexploitation it wants to denounce, crassly avoiding answering the objectionable stereotypes and sinister luridness that it displays on the screen. “But Salander kills the men who abuse her! She’s a symbol of empowerment!” Yeah, while I do contend that every so often some “rape/left for dead and revenge” fantasies are a notch above the B-movie cesspool [Irréversible, Death Proof, The Virgin Spring (not a B-movie by the way), Deliverance (male rape/revenge)], but how the Swedish Millennium series handles the misogyny and sexism it wants to condemn becomes muddled in its fetishized version of revenge rather than Larsson’s original morally-centered core.
When the original Swedish film of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo won the awkwardly-titled BAFTA award for “Best Film not in the English Language,” I couldn’t help but think to myself, “well, it’s your credibility BAFTA.” The accolades that this film won are mostly products of hype and overly-exaggerated prestige brought upon by ridiculous amounts of marketing (every time I see a Nook/Kindle commercial, the actors are always reading a Stieg Larsson novel), though the nominations and occasional wins of Noomi Rapace for Best Actress here and there are justified. For Rooney Mara, the actress slated to portray Salander in the version of the film, she has some big shoes (combat boots actually) to fill. Mara, seen as Erica Albright in Fincher’s 2010 The Social Network, seems appropriately cast as the character, as the fiery performance she gave in the aforesaid film hints at the potential for true greatness here. Also, she puts on a pretty killer mohawk.
What will be interesting however, is how the actors will convey their Swedish accents (assuming that they will), considering that Larsson’s novels are distinctively set in the picturesque Swedish backdrop. Based on the early trailer, it looks that Fincher is also headed the same route in terms of location, so it’ll be definitely worth noting how the cast will handle their Swedish accents (perhaps even a dash of the foreign tongue as well?). The cast itself is noteworthy as well, consisting of Daniel Craig as Blomkvist, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer (!), Robin Wright (Forrest Gump’s Jen-aaaay), Stellan Skarsgård (a native Swedish actor last seen in Thor), among many others.
Other topics that people have brought up? “This is clearly moneymaking trash.” Whenever I see a comment that simultaneously defends the Swedish films and claims that the version is being created solely for financial gains, the only logical response is laughter. Really? As if the Swedish films, all hastily filmed and released in 2009 at the height of the books’ popularity, aren’t products of business. Like The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, both of which were speedily released in the same year, the quality goes down and the obviousness for spur-of-the-moment commercial exploitation increases. The way in which the Swedish films are shot looks shoddy, the writing is lazy, and the overall movie-watching experience feels wasted. David Fincher’s interpretation (NOT remake… It’s HIS movie, and he’s wisely translating it based on the actual book, not the slapdash Swedish films) of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo represents a second chance at an admirable adaptation of Larson’s novels.
Some critics liken Fincher’s decision to reevaluate the series on his own terms as a parallel to fellow Swedish film Let the Right One In and remake Let Me In. The connection is understandable, though I doubt that a talented and ambitious director like Fincher will film this shot-for-shot identically like Let Me In (Though I do acknowledge that Let Me In is a worthy remake of the original Swedish film, particularly because of Chloë Moretz’s outstanding performance). Scott Rudin, producer of both The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, describes Fincher as “hardwired to question authority and existing structures. And he likes nothing better than to blow them up.” Hopefully his account of Fincher’s personality suggests the director’s trademark inventiveness and edginess at work in the upcoming film.
Plus, Fincher has always been creative in the way in which he portrays serial killer mysteries. Se7en and Zodiac are both landmark murder mystery films, with the former exemplary in its grayer depiction of good and evil and the latter a stunning piece that examines obsession in an otherworldly dark, quiet atmosphere. The source material for Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo features a fairly interesting and innately dark storyline that would feel right at home with the director. Investigative journalist Mikhail Blomkvist (Craig), convicted of libel by an industrial tycoon after a particularly scathing Millennium article, finds himself recruited by an aging Swedish industrialist (Plummer) to investigate the disappearance of his grandniece who has been missing for over forty years. During the course of the story, Blomkvist eventually encounters Salander, and the duo start an odd friendship as they work together the pieces of a larger conspiracy at hand.
The early trailer released not so long ago (and posted on the site) demonstrates Fincher’s distinct visual style, filled with warm gold/green colors but also a harsh shadowy texture that intertwines the trailer’s brash, split-second cuts. Presented as a smörgåsbord of cuts, the trailer unleashes a wave of energy and evokes an air of mystery. Ultimately, the new video presents the atmospheric mood that Fincher plays out so well, manipulating the seemingly picturesque, snowy landscape into a dreary wasteland of buried secrets and potential danger. Steven Zaillian (Shindler’s List, Gangs of New York, Hannibal, American Gangster) writes the script, gratefully changing some of the aspects that diminished the success of the Swedish film. Blomkvist is supposedly depicted as less promiscuous and Salander, under the manipulation of Fincher’s dark mind, is more aggressive and hostile here. The most notable change that Zaillian makes however, involves the ending of the story. According to various sources who’ve read the script, the resolution is far better and more interesting than the one presented in the Swedish film.
But what I’m most interested in concerns Fincher’s handling of Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander. Depicting female angst isn’t really Fincher’s most well-known characteristic, as he often shows existentialist anguish and ennui relating to the male experience: the disillusionment of white collar males in Fight Club, heterosexual “influence triangles” (as opposed to love triangles) in The Social Network, and so on. Panic Room and Alien 3 arguably venture into the realm of the female psyche, but who honestly cites these two films as exemplar pieces that deconstruct feminine gender roles? During the shooting, Fincher meticulously experimented with different ways to portray the character, and hopefully we’ll see his shocking, yet arresting visual aesthetic exhibited on the big screen.
Back to the trailer, and what hits you first is the thumping bass and gently pulsating industrial rhythm of a Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails fame) score. Reznor, who’s worked with Fincher before on the Academy Award-winning soundtrack to The Social Network and on the music video for Nine Inch Nails’s “Only”, crafted a dark, industrial/electronic cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’s Karen O on vocals. Fitting with the sudden flash-cuts in the trailer, the sounds create the mood. This isn’t the hushed ambiance of The Social Network, this film is louder and has more unrestrained power. Reznor returns to score this film with Fincher once again, like a beautiful alliance that Nine Inch Nails fans have only dreamed of back in the year 1995 when Fincher used “Closer (Precursor)” on the hauntingly beautiful opening credits of Se7en.
There’s so much detail in the split-second cuts of the early trailer that it’s difficult to assimilate it in a single viewing (or for that matter, even a second or third unless you watch REALLY closely and pause every now and then). As trailers go, this one promises troves of intrigue and superior storytelling, but yield absolutely zero information as to the actual nature of this film. Fincher unearths authentic interest with this trailer, luring audiences in with its flat refusal to divulge story but acceptance to numb audiences with the forceful, pounding images it presents. As to the original “Millennium” series, Larsson’s novels are dodgy at times, but I enjoyed them nonetheless. The Swedish films may be hurriedly crafted, but Fincher’s auteurist vision and harmonious experience with filming disturbing, borderline-sadomasochistic pieces serve as a reminder that the upcoming The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo release shows the director at his zenith. In Fincher we trust.