Film: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

I am not a great film-watcher. In recent years the number of films new to me I see in any one year can usually be counted out on the fingers on both hands with digits left to spare. It’s been a long time since I was last in a cinema – it might very well have been Avatar.

However, when channel-surfing I realised that the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was showing on Film Four some weeks back. It had already started. Thankfully Film Four has a secondary channel at a one hour delay, so I set that to record on the Sky Box, and tonight I watched it.

I actually own the book, and have even read the first few pages. Also, I have picked up some of the plot from reading various random articles here and there. Mostly however my knowledge of this comes from Jessica at The Velvet Cafe, mostly in her discussion of remakes and her review of the Hollywood version that came out last year. At some point in all those discussions I acquired a desire to see the Swedish version before the remake. Perhaps it is my growing love for things Scandinavian, or (possibly more likely) it is me just being generally contrarian.

Mission success: I have watched “Män som hater kvinnor” in the original language, with English subtitles. The subtitles were adequate enough to allow one to follow what was going on, though I was amused to note my (fairly poor) knowledge of Danish was just good enough to realise some of what they missed out.

If I were to describe the film in one word that word would be “understated”. If I were given two words they would be “powerfully understated”. One of the things I dislike about the stereotypical Hollywood film (though Hollywood is not alone from doing this) is how they can hit you over the head with something so often it loses meaning. This film does not do that. Everything seems dialled down – and it is far more powerful as a result.

My favourite scene: when Lisbeth is about to send an email to Blomkvist, and the little flash across her face the moment she does, that instant moment of regret and knowledge that what she has done is irreversible. Just a little scene, probably not even a minute in length, yet I think it says so much about the character of Lisbeth. No words, just the touch of a mousepad, and a small twitch to a face – can, when done well, be exceptionally potent.

I think Michael Nyqvist did a very solid role in Blomkvist. I bought into to his growing obsession into the investigation that forms the heart of the film – I get the impression Blomkvist who gets obsessed with each and every case he covers. He is also curiously innocent for a man whose professional life is that of a muckraker. The film, in part, seems to be a journey for him in which he loses that innocence. Whether or not he is a better man for the knowledge he gains in return I think is a very much open question.

Noomi Rapace was just superb as Lisbeth. I think she portrayed this damaged person very well – by just being, rather than making a whole song and dance of it. Not my favourite scene, but one I think of the most powerful, is that image of her sitting on the sofa in the house of her probation officer, smoking a cigarette. Also there is a scene when Blomkvist asks her a question, and she suddenly gets up and leaves. That rings true for me – sometimes with my own mental issues I just suddenly need to leave the room. This film of course is also a journey for Lisbeth, where perhaps she in a way also looses her own innocence, though that is perhaps the wrong word. I do think the Lisbeth at the end of this film is a good deal more vulnerable than the one half-way through.

I have no desire to delve too deeply into the overall plot of the storyline, save to say that I enjoyed it. To be sure, like many mystery stories there is an element of contrivance to the whole affair – which it does not always disguise. Having not read the book, I do not know if this is as a result of the film or the material the film is drawn from. However, this is mostly a minor quibble that, while watching, I was easily able to ignore.

The overall look and feel of the film, including the photography, was – to repeat myself – understated. It felt Scandinavian too – in a way I am entirely sure I cannot define, only that I recognise it in some Danish television I have now watched.

In the event, I thoroughly recommend the Swedish version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” to all and sundry. I cannot claim it will be “better” than the Hollywood version – one man’s meat is another’s poison and so on – but I am sure it is a more authentic rendering.


  1. Jessica said:

    Yay! Great to hear you loved it so much! I prefer Rapace to Mara. I think she’s more of a grown-up and less of a girl in need. I didn’t like how they made her more vulnerable in the remake. I also think Craig felt a little bit out of place in the remake compared to Nyqvist. He was too handsome, too tough, too much James Bond.

    This said: there was a jaw-dropping finish to the US version that we never really get in Scandinavian films. It felt very unusual to see such a polished movie taking place in our neighborhood.

    • stnylan said:

      Well, I cannot compare of course, but it did feel like Rapace made a very powerful character. I am interested to see if I can ever see the other two films in the series – have you seen them?

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