There are men who hate women. Some more than others. Stieg Larsen’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is about full-frontal misogyny, masochism and how women are often viewed as objects to be fucked, dismembered and disposed of. The story is about so much more, but that’s its core ideology, with a heroine who does battle against the ice-cold serial sexism of murderous men.
The book was already adapted for the big screen way back in 2009 and starred Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace. That film and its sequels were excellent. They were also ultra-Swedish (read: sterile). I watched those movies, loved them, loved that they were artistic films, but they weren’t works of art. Director David Fincher’s remake of TGWTDT is by all means a masterpiece, because it’s far darker, brooding and depressed. Even the film’s opening title sequence – a cover of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song along with black-on-black visuals of murder, bondage, hornets, drowning, physical abuse, a fiery phoenix and love-making – feels like an abstract glimpse into the nightmares of Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), the girl with the dragon tattoo. Lisbeth is a fringe dweller, with facial, nipple (and probable clitoral) piercings, body ink, Mohawk hair, dresses in dark shades, rides a bike, sleeps with girls and guys. She’s specific to the information age: she’s a researcher and hacker, has a slight case of autism, and a photographic memory.
She’s also very shut off from the outside. Part of her inability to deal with the world has to do with feeling, she doesn’t trust feeling, doesn’t trust hearsay, she only trusts data. She’s a hoarder, sweeps all of her past under a dull emotional rug, and she doesn’t like bureaucrats and middle-aged men, especially her legal guardian, a rapist who abuses Lisbeth until the day she enacts the most profound revenge. But, the story has two protagonists whose plots intertwine: Lisbeth and journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig). When we first meet him, he’s walking out of court, having just lost a libel case against a shady businessman. The ruling has made him an outcast, which appeals to Lisbeth. Mikael is a good listener, has a good sense of humour and has plenty of women in his life – a daughter he’s finding his way with, an ex-wife, a lover who has a husband, and Lisbeth… who becomes an amalgam of all of these women and the focal point for his working out a lot of his relationship issues. Lisbeth has been compiling a background check on Mikael for tycoon Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer). Vanger wants the journo, Mikael, to investigate the murder and disappearance of his grandniece Harriet 40 years ago. Vanger stays on an island in Hedestad, and Mikael’s journey to Vanger’s mansion is one of the best sequences of the film. Vanger hates everyone in his family, all of who stay on the island in their own frozen manors. He’s pretty certain that one of them killed Harriet and he twists Mikael’s arm to take up the search and “settle the account.” During Mikeal’s investigations he realises that he needs the help of a good researcher and is recommended Lisbeth via Vanger’s lawyer.
The two find themselves working together and having urgent sex on and off during their inquiries. There’s enormous detail during these scenes of investigation and the film becomes something of a procedural. It is here that I stop with plot outline, because what Mikael and Lisbeth uncover and find is surprising and much more. I’ve got a list of films in my Top 10. And The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is definitely in there too. It’s a modern classic, with the structure of a great thriller and horror, and a neo-gothic world inhabited by real evil and ambiguous good. Themes of loss and unreachable hope abound like your typical macabre Brothers Grimm tale, with a female knight coming to the rescue of a man in distress, helping him out of his shell, pulling him out of the wreckage that is his life. But beyond that, it is a story about the depravity of men. And all men have urges. It’s just that some urges require more towels.
By Damon Boyd
Published in Playboy South Africa August 2012