I just watched the new The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
It’s a good film on it’s own. If there was nothing to measure it against i’d say not too shabby. 4 out of 6?
But there is something to measure it against. A book and a movie as we know.
Compared to the Swedish film version, I was not happy about the story changes made by David Fincher. They weakened the characters. Watered them down.
This incarnation of Lisbeth is fragile feeling where the previous was strong.
It’s not just Rooney’s willowy build, it’s a flighty panicked out of body look in her eyes much of the time, especially when the shit hits the fan. Where Noomi burned and smoldered, coiled and always ready to do what needs to be done. A protagonist who needs permission from no one. Rooney skitters and screeches and seems to need her man, need affirmation, approval.
For reasons that remind me of True Romance David Fincher’s version lacks the bite of the original Swedish film.
I love True Romance.
Did you know there was a directors cut? Of course there was, every film now right? The Directors cut of True Romance is the one where Alabama does not need saving, and Clarence shows up too late.
Tip: Alabama is the hero of that film, Clarence dies and she lives in the sunset. That’s the Tarantino ending. In the box office release she saves Clarence and they all live together with their child in the sunset.
There are a lot of little changes between the two versions beyond that, the most significant ones rob Alabama of a lot of her power. One that comes to mind here is when In the film a mob hit man catches up with the couple in California and corners Alabama in a Motel room while Clarence is off getting a bite to eat. .
Alabama goes to the room to find the classically talkative Tarantino killer Virgil waiting for her. She tries to play it like she has no idea why he’s there and everything is cool. In return he tries to beat what he wants out of her. But she tells him where to stick it and that goes over well as you would expect.
While Clarence chats with a non Elvis fan about fanatics and trivia waiting for food, we’re treated to a long scene where Alabama gets the shit kicked out of her. But just as Virgil thinks he found what he’s looking for - drugs the lovers stole from her pimp - the tides turn.
In both versions Virgil gives her “one shot” at him with a cork screw as some kind of parting gift because he admires her grit. Big mistake.
In both Alabama manages to get the upper hand.
But in the directors cut she doesn’t just blind Virgil with soap, torch him with hair spray, beat him over the head with the top of the toilet tank, and shoot him with his own shot gun.
No, she runs out of bullets.
Screams like a wild animal beating the wet pulp that was Virgil with the empty double barrel’s hilt.
Till the gun slips from her hands.
And then she uses her fists.
Then, Clarence returns. Gathers her and their stuff up and the couple takes off.
True Romance (1993) - Fight scene with Patricia Arquette
In the studio’s version, she gets one shot off with the gun and in rushes Clarence. To rescue her, even if only symbolically.
The directors cut has a couple of other changes, all of them add up to presenting Alabama as every bit as crazy dangerous and resourceful as her man. But that made people uncomfortable.
I think the same thing is happening with the David Fincher version of The girl with the dragon Tattoo.
Lisbeth Salander is one of the most intense capable female protagonists to come around in a long time.
A lot of that is down not to her taste in black cloths, or some other bit of dressing. it’s all about her self advocacy.
She is no one’s victim. Ever.
In the back story revealed in the sequels we learn what happened to make her a ward of the state or why she spent time in an institution, and it’s not because she was a victim, it was because she took action to stop someone else’s abuser.
This trait of self advocacy is reinforced through out the first films to the point that by the end she is only ‘saved’ after having been literately buried alive mortally wounded, and clawing her way out of a shallow grave to take revenge. Then and only then does the story have her relinquish her own advocacy, due mostly to blood loss.
This is important to defining this character the way breathing is to you.
In one of the most definitive and powerful moments in the first film of the original trilogy - after saving Mikael from the murderous Martin Vanger - she chases down Vanger, has a chance to pull him from a burning wreck, and chooses not to. Coldly. Or hotly? The look in her eyes as the car burns is anything but cool.
In the books before chasing after Martin she say’s “i’m going to get him”. In the film she says nothing and just does it.
Her actions - and inaction - is a key wedge in her relationship with Mikael Blomkvist.
He comes around but initially he is disturbed by her murderous side even if he thinks Martin deserved it in the end. In the film it’s the moment that he first retreats from the intimacy of their budding relationship. He is, essentially, a little scared of her.
It sells his characters dedication to his values and his vaulnarbility. It also helps to set up Blomkvist to understand in the sequels that this is not the first murderous act in Lisbeth’s life. And it sells her as someone not to be trifled with. Someone very willing to kill if she feels it’s just.
It introduces a subtle degree of complicated and interesting moral/ethical conflict between them. Mikael comes over the course of the series to admire her for her willingness to act on her own behalf. That she does not as a rule need to be saved. And of course when in later films she does need help it makes it all the more powerful as well. In the books and the first set of films all the conventions of male and female leads are flipped.
All of this is good. And missing in the new one.
In the new film, this key moment rang terribly sour for me. There were other places where i noticed how they had softened Lisbeth and toughened Mikael. But those seconds between saving Mikael and chasing after Martin screamed.
In the new Fincher film after she saves Blomkvist from Vanger, before racing after Vanger, she stops.
To ask Blomkvist for permission to kill Martin…
And Blomkvist gives it!
No no no no no.
In that second both characters are redefined radically as different drastically from those in the first movies or books.
Where Noomi’s Lisbeth has a chance to save Martin and stands by to watch him burn instead, Rooney Mara’s Lisbeth does not even make it to the wreck before it blows up.
She is not given the power or choice there, she just watches as fate deals it’s Justice.
She also looks stylishly foolish racing after him without her helmet on, while Noomi’s Lisbeth is all business and never rides without her gear even in this moment of rage. Details I know, but it adds up.
Making her ask for permission, from anyone, de-fangs her as much as it robs Blomkvist of one of his greatest strengths - having him grant permission to kill wipes out his enlarged notion of virtue and righteousness. Just as important for that characters strength as Lisbeth’s self advocacy is for her. In fact something i notices is that in this version of the film, at the beginning he seems more concerned with his reputation than having failed to get his man.
There are many other details like this, ways in which they make the passive clever and thoughtful Blomkvist into an American style man of action. And the raw powerful cool and slightly intimidating Lisbeth into a fractured girl who’s power is mostly just in her keyboards and brains.
She is not unchained the way Noomi Rapace’s Lisbeth is, nor is she as in control.
In both films she’s tightly wound but in the new one it feels unstable - she even tells one of her enemies that should be afraid of her, it’s true what they say, she’s crazy! Noomi’s Lisbeth would never say that about herself. She’d just beat her opponents and not care what they thought so long as they *knew* she could find them and have them again any time she wants.
This new version of Lisbeth is far less in command of herself. Rooney defers to the men around her in a way Noomi never did. She’s stiff and ridged around men in way that tells us she has fear, where as Noomi walked with balls and projects anger rather than terror.
Right down to the moment she takes Mikael Blomkvist as a lover. Noomi’s Lisbeth is a top, in control, it’s all on her terms.
Rooney gets flipped over.
With many of the details of thier relationship glossed over and de fanged, and his own character less accessible, Blomkvist seems here like a perfunctory dick who drops her once she’s not around as much. Rather than a possibly over virtuous idealist who worries about being too old for Lisbeth or that she might just want to be with him for sex [plot point in the novel]. Instead in this new incarnation, we watch as he watches things happen without any apparent realization that Lisbeth is behind the final events.
All the lengthy scenes in the first version after Vanger died, after they find the missing grandniece. Which itself is resolved shallowly compared to the Swedish film.
In the first film we spend much of the last act with Blomkvist, in a cell doing his time for the slander charges against his nemesis Wennerström from the start of the film, working with documents on Wennerström Lisbeth obtained for him. He writes a damming new story about Wennerström that gives him the uper hand when he gets out of jail. Meanwhile unbeknownst to him, Lisbeth goes after Wennerström via back doors, clearing out his bank accounts. With the emphasis on Blomkvist there was a lot of plot there that helped establish Blomkvist’s depth of character too, and his evolving admiration of Lisbeth at a distance now. And with us unclear on just how she was doing it all in such detail, a stronger impression of just how capable Lisbeth is.
This are all gone in the new remake. no jail time. Instead the film turns into a fast cut caper flick that shows in detail how Lisbeth masterfully, boringly, robs Wennerström blind. And then has her return baring a symbolic gift of a fine leather jacket for Blomkvist [come ride with me] rather than mysteriously travelling in disguise without him,
She then sees Blomkvist walking with his co-publisher and sometimes lover, and acts irrationally betrayed, riding into the night throwing away the expensive leather jacket.
Technically closer to the plot of the book possibly, but it’s all done so fast and superficially and we get little insight into Lisbeth’s state of mind beyond the obvious, and even less into Blomkvists who just shows up for reaction shots to the news on TV or oblivious at a distance for the last act. Not once giving much indication that he understand what he’s seeing.
So, yeah, good film? Pretty for sure. Nice camera work.
But compared to the Swedish one, kind of lame.