Yesterday I saw the spendid adaptation of Steig Larsson’s Girl Who Played With Fire. The film had the same cast and director as The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. (A couple left the theater ahead of me and the man said, “Well, she wasn’t the girl with the dragon tattoo, was she?” And the wife said–from behind her I could practically see her rolling her eyes–“Of course it was! Didn’t you see the big tattoo on her back?” And he said, “Well, I couldn’t tell what it was.”)
I’m wondering if the production crew made one seven-or-eight hour movie comprising all three books, and then edited them for separate release. The absolute consistency and faithful adherence to the story suggests that.
Noomi Rapace plays Lizbeth Salander, the girl who has a dragon tattoo, an uncanny ability to hack any information technology, poor socials skills and an eidetic memory. In the first book, Salander worked side-by-side with Mikael Blomqvist (Michael Nyqvist), a crusading journalist facing disgrace after he failed to check some sources in a story he published. Salander also had her own issue in the first book (and movie) and that was gaining control of her corrupt government-appointed guardian. At that time, it seemed that the appointment of the guardian–that particular one–was just an unlucky coincidence for Salander. However, we find out early in Fire that it was no coincidence at all.
At the end of Dragon Tattoo, Lizbeth had, um, well, let’s say she’d come into a lot of money. In Fire, she returns to Sweden after a year of travel. She confronts her guardian, and almost immediately is implicated in his murder and the murder of two young journalists who are working on a human trafficking story for Blomqvist’s magazine Millenium. Lizbeth’s fingerprints are on the murder weapon, and her case history shows a propensity for violence since childhood. When I read the second book I got very restless during the middle third, when Lizabeth was basically missing from the book. In the movie we spend far more time with Lizbeth than we do with Mikael and his editorial team. That’s all to the good.
Rapace correctly plays Salander in a minimialist style; most emotion is evoked with her eyes and a quirk of her mouth. The movie runs over two hours but it doesn’t drag, nor is it self-indulgent, but the director creates multi-layered scenes that give us moments of Lizbeth’s emotional isolation (her sitting against the wall in one of the rooms of her palatial multi-room penthouse); and the brief flickers of joy; such as the tiny curve of a smile when she is riding amotorcycle. Blomqvist, in contrast, is emotionally open, and feelings cycle across his face like shadows from clouds. A strength in the series is that Blomqvist is a different model for Salander of how to live, and the films stay faithful to that.
Sweden looks gorgeous in the movie, too.
I don’t know much about Swedish history, but somehow they missed the whole Puritian thing, so they aren’t as confused and twisted about sex as we Americans are. In the Girl saga, this particularly means that they don’t confuse rape with sex. In Dragon Tattoo there is a horrifying rape scene that is crucial to the plot of not only the first, but all three, books. I confess I worried that the movie would eroticize it–because most American directors would. The scene was not erotic at all. It was terrifying. It hurt to watch. It was supposed to do that. In contrast, scenes of sex between equals are made very beautiful and erotic. It’s nice to watch sex in a film that’s been addressed by grownups.
I have no idea if you could follow the plot of Fire without having read or at least seen Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Apparently the gentleman ahead of me who didn’t even know who Salander was didn’t have any trouble. It is definitely easier if you’d read the books first. The movies are subtitled. I hope they leave them subtitled and don’t dub; the original actors’ voices add a degree of richness to the experience.
In my opinion, there is no need for any American film studio to take on this franchise (even I know someone will if they haven’t already). The European versions are compelling and true to the books in a way no American film ever is. I recommend reading the series and then seeing both of these movies.