Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Movie, Swedish vs. American

Photo: poster for the Swedish movie, from its Wikipedia page

Rented the Swedish version, the original, of course, and figured I would share my thoughts about it, as compared to David Fincher's American film.  Feel free to agree, or disagree.  And please read my write-up of the American film here.  Reading what I wrote about Fincher's direction and Rooney Mara's performance may lead to a better reading of the critique of the Swedish film, below.

--Noomi Rapace's performance deserves its many accolades, and gets extra points for being the first, which, rightly or not, sets the stage for all other interpretations of the role, and must be the one all others are compared to.  If another performance were to be better than this--which I believe Rooney Mara's is--then it must be as juxtaposed to this one, in accordance to its successes and failures.  This makes Rapace's performance all that more singular.

But it doesn't make it better, though a better/worse distinction isn't what this art is all about, and is almost nonsense anyway, as both performances are very good.  In this case, I think it has to do with the script, which I believe is superior in the American film.  It calls for Lisbeth to be edgier, scarier, more vulnerable, and easier to be sympathetic to.  This will be dealt with in better detail later, but the final word here, regarding performance, is that, frankly, Rooney Mara had more to work with, and she gave it her all, which the combination of script and director allowed her to do.  Rapace undoubtedly would have, as well, had she been given the chance.  But she wasn't.

--So, the script is better in Finch's version, and this I can explain easily.  The American film, surprisingly, follows the book much more closely than does the original Swedish version.  This is shocking because a) American films are notorious worldwide for bastardizing its original source, which it does not do here, and b) the Swedish film is, of course, based on the book from Sweden, and so therefore has, you would think, more allegiance to the film.  The Swedish film is the highest-grossing film in Swedish history, and it was followed very closely by the other two films in the series--all of which is based on the best-selling novel (and novels) in recent Swedish history.  One would think that the pressure to be faithful to the book was extreme, but apparently not.

[Spoilers coming; be forewarned.]

While following the evidence more closely than the American version (but not by much, and perhaps it does so just a little more clearly, rather than closely), the script veers dramatically in the characterization of Salander.  For example, you see her in bed with another woman when Blomqvist arrives at her apartment, but in the book, her sexuality is a big deal with her character, and the bisexuality plays a major role in her development.  It adds to her confusion, or rebelliousness, or search for affection, or yearning for affection and attention, or...whatever you want to call it.  But it matters.  Here, it's very glossed over, with just the woman's appearance in her bed.  You're missing a lot if you don't get this part of her character.  Fincher's American film did this much better.

The same could be said for her mentor who suffers the heart attack, who is totally and oddly absent from the Swedish film.  He also represents her confusion, longing for affection, father-figure (important, considering what she did to her real father, and considering what a horrible person he was) and loss.  This latter is most important, because she is born to the father from Hell, then is given to a saintly man--but then she is given the custodian from Hell when this man is struck; her father is the Devil, then her father-figure is switched with the Devil, and, more crucially, the fact that he was her only positive interpersonal relationship to the outside world is thrown away if you throw his character away, which the Swedish version does.  This is huge.  The American film does this much better, and by doing so, it gave Fincher's and Mara's Salander more to emote about, more to suffer from, more to lose.  This only deepens her character.  Rapace never got this chance.  And I can't ignore the obvious by pointing out that Blomqvist is her father-figure/lover, a distinction that is so obvious that I, thankfully, don't need to go into it.  Except I'll say that the pendulum of father-figure has swung again, from good, to bad, back to good again.  Which leads to...

The relationship between Blomqvist and his editor/friend/lover from Millennium is also completely and strangely absent from the Swedish film.  When he goes back to her at the end of the American film (and in the book), it only adds another layer of loss to Salander's character, as her connecting to him was a major achievement in of itself for her.  When he leaves her (notice at the end of the Swedish film, he's still in jail, and she leaves him), he takes away the only stable and positive relationship she has to anyone outside her family, or still-living mentor.  That is a HUGE loss that Larsson clearly understood and intended--and obviously juxtaposed with Harriet Vanger returning to her own father-figure/mentor, the man who replaced her own Devil-father.  (Surprisingly, Harriet Vanger's father is the Devil, while Salander's father was more like his Beelzebub.)  They never forgot each other all those years.  That's such an obvious Shakespearean foil-character juxtaposition that I am shocked the Swedish filmmakers chose to completely disregard it.  To do so throws away the most tragic elements of Salander's character.  This is astonishing--especially as it does not honor the original source.

It is jaw-dropping to me that the American film version honors the characterization and true spirit of the original Swedish text much more so than does the Swedish film.  I at first wondered why an American film company would bother making a film based on an already-appreciated Swedish film based on an already-successful Swedish book.  Now I know--Fincher had a much better script to work with, and he knew it.

I point out all of these differences--and there are many more, but this will suffice, I guess (no, wait, there are more below)--because Lisbeth Salander is of course the heart of this series of books and movies.  It goes where she goes.  She is the energy, the spirit, the real, fleshy character.  She's the one the audience really connects to, and hopes for, and feels for.  Larsson knew this from the beginning, which is why he focused on her so much (and why the third book flopped so badly, because he strangely wouldn't let her do anything).  To throw away so much of her character in the Swedish movie's script is to throw her away--and she's the beating heart of the whole thing!

Okay, so a few more differences that really bothered me:

Her sexuality is severely torn down in the Swedish movie, which is odd, because the Swedish culture and lifestyle is much less prudish, really, than is America's.  That's a huge part of who she is, and it's nowhere in the film.  Her past of drugs, crime and institutionalization is also nowhere to be found in the Swedish film--which is, again, throwing away everything that she is, and all that she is trying to change from.  Throwing away her embezzlement wizardry is also a mistake, as that helps her become a new her, which she did in part to be with Blomqvist, and it's because she loves him (in her own way) that she does all that research, delivers it to him, then dons her wig and takes all of Wennerstrom's money, which she knows will lead him to being knocked off by the criminals he worked with.  And this is what happens, which the Swedish film completely glosses over when it says that he clearly killed himself instead.  She basically kills him in the book, and in the American film, and she does this because he set Blomqvist up, sent him to prison, ruins his reputation, and, for God's sake, she's protecting the guy she loves and avenging his sacrifice.  The Swedish movie blows all this by ending the way it did, which blows her attempt to connect to someone, and to change--and it is this attempt to change that is ruined by the ending of the book and the American movie, when he goes back to his publisher/friend/lover, which the Swedish film also completely ignored.  And, lastly, the Swedish version is missing Salander's considerable rage, specifically towards Men Who Hate Women--which is why it's a shame that the Swedish version didn't include her asking Blomqvist at the end, "Can I kill him?" when she goes after Martin Vanger.  Not giving a bit of air time to her rage also erases a huge part of her characterization and character.  She isn't Lisbeth Salander without it, and the Swedish film completely misses that.  Rooney Mara had that nailed: that rage.  That ever-present anger.

The American film has ALL of this, and more.  It is clearly better, and so is, therefore, Rooney Mara's performance.  She had a completely fleshed-out, round and changing character to work with, and defined her to the hilt.  Her interpretation was more than worthy of her Oscar nomination.  A much more thorough, edgy, sexy, intelligent, sociopathic, empathetic, sympathetic and engaging character to watch and to root for.


  1. Wow, excellent review! Before I go further I have to ask if you are aware there is an extended version of this film which contains more than two hours of additional footage? I assume you watched the theatrical version which I myself also viewed. I felt the same regarding the missing crucial elements from the book. The absence of Blomqvist's relationship with his editor was detrimental because without it we are not a witness to Salander's vulnerability in the end. Honestly that was my favorite part of the book, so the Swedish version was much less effective in that sense. However, I recommend watching the extended version (I will too) and then do a further comparison. I haven't watched the American version yet, but I am looking forward to it since you spoke highly of it AND because I'm a fan of David Fincher.

  2. Thanks for the comments and compliments! The DVD I got from the library did not come with the additional hours, so I didn't know they existed. I'll have to track down a DVD with that extra footage. I wonder what was in the extended version, and I wonder why all of it was cut. Yes, the relationship with this editor was critical for many reasons, especially as it pertained to Salander. And I'm a big David Fincher fan, too.

  3. Well apparently there was quite a bit cut out considering the extended version runs for over four hours. I would assume it includes many of the missing scenes you discussed in your review. The extended version is available on Netflix (streaming only), so you may have trouble finding it in your local library. Most likely it was cut for pacing reasons. Four hours is a lot to ask for the casual movie goer to sit still!