Saturday, July 03, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: A Review

"She went around with the attitude that she would rather be beaten to death than take any shit."

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2005) by Stieg Larsson

Rest assured, my pretties. I will tell you when the spoilers start.

tattoo Final 27x40.indd
Yes, she would.

Not frightfully long ago, I saw a difficult Swedish film called The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and I'm not saying it's difficult because I was forced to stare at the bottom of the screen through almost the entire length of the movie where the subtitles are at, no. It's difficult in the way that witnessing the rape of a young girl in progress is difficult. It's difficult because there's absolutely nothing you can do to stop it.

I have made it a point to get acquainted with the source material of every movie I plan to watch but finding the time to fulfill that promise proved to be an impossibility. I have not read the posthumously published novel by Stieg Larsson - though I am more than eager to remedy that deficiency, especially having met Lisbeth Salander, the eponymous girl with the dragon tattoo, in living motion.

The story takes the incarnation of a psychological crime thriller; a Christiesque locked-room whodunit on an island with a finite list of equally likely suspects, updated for the internet age. Mikael Blomkvist, a boyscout of an investigative journalist who gives me the impression that he is constantly out of his depth, was hired the wealthy industrialist, Henrik Vanger of Vanger Concern to solve the 40 years old mystery surrounding the disappearance - and the ostensibility of murder most foul - of his favourite niece, Harriet Vanger. The job put Blomkvist in the dangerous desolation of the Vanger estate in the Swedish countryside, a place which is cold in every sense of the word. Henrik believed that a member of his own sinister family was the killer. Three of the Vangers were members of the Hitler Youth.

"You do not know my family," he said to Blomkvist. "You do not know what they are capable of." The missing Harriet gave Henrik a pressed flower every year for his birthday since she was eight up until her disappearance - but pressed flowers still came in for Henrik yearly, each one from a different part of the world. Harriet's murderer was gleefully taunting him, Henrik believed.

Unbeknownst to Blomkvist, a young, twitchy and darkly brilliant computer hacker who looked as if she was dragging around one burning hell of a Past was investigating him at the same time.

As it was Ebert's review of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo which informed me about the existence of this film, I would like to quote something he wrote which I feel could not be better said; "This is a movie about characters who have more important things to do than be characters in an action thriller."

The core mystery of this film would very soon devolve into a convoluted and chilling exploration into the violent history of a monster - red herrings the size of albacore tunas are pretty much par for course. As engrossing as the sleuthing process would have otherwise been, I found myself drawn more intensely to the character of Lisbeth Salander instead. Her motives are unfathomable. Her every move exudes a kind of stone cold sexuality; an allure which is both intimidating and alien to me.

I repeat myself: this is a difficult film. It confronts its audience with the disturbing reality of the abuse of women and of the violent animal loosely caged beneath the amicable skin of some men. It gazes into the abyss of our very human propensity for hatred and violence, and the places which that darkness takes us.

This is a movie which should be seen, but who would I recommend this movie to? That's a hard question. Should you watch this film? Only if you are ready.

The Girl.

With greasy black hair as dark as ink and many piercings adorning her severe features, Lisbeth Salander would not fit into many people's conventional template for beauty. In fact, multiple allusions were made about how unsavoury and un-sexy Lisbeth is by some side characters in the film's sequel, The Girl Who Played with Fire. She is wiry and hardcore, and her pits are unshaven. Her first name has a hiss in it and her last is reminiscent of a certain serpentine, cold-blooded creature. She looked as if she's ready to explode from all the internalised anger and hatred she bore for the world and all its people.

Noomi Rapace
And she wore a friggin' spiked collar.

However, it seemed to me that she is a lot more asocial than she is antisocial. Her mechanical mannerisms, her aloof disregard for societal mores and her singlemindedness in everything she sets out to do recall the hallmarks of a savant autistic. Did I mention that she also possesses an eidetic memory and displays 1337 hax0r sk1llz? If you don't know what that last thing meant, you obviously need moar internetz in your diet.

This is where I begin with the SPOILERS. Stop reading or skip to the last third of this post if you haven't seen the movie.

Contrasting her with Blomkvist, the male lead, she appears to be the far more competent player in the plot and indeed in the film's climax, it was her - armed with a golf club, no less - who rescued him by brutally beating the bejabbers out of the outed murderer who was looking to permanently silence the hapless, middle-aged journalist. Many would regard her as a strong, feminist heroine. Many would vehemently disagree.

Does the film sexually exploit the character of Lisbeth Salander? Most assuredly, it did. There's a scene where Bjurman, her legal guardian, irrumates (or skull-fucks, to use common parlance) Lisbeth in his office when she visited to withdraw some money from her own savings. Bjurman is the kind of subhuman character whose sliminess makes your stomach squirm in revulsion. He makes you want to hurt and disfigure him, and to give him as much pain as a person can bodily experience.

"I will not suck cock every time I need the money," she asserted in a subsequent confrontation with her perverse guardian, who promptly disrobed his penchant for sadism and bondage. He overpowered and ruthlessly trashed her, before raping her while she was tied down and handcuffed to the bedposts (bet you thought I wasn't talking about a literal rape at the start of this review). It was easily the most upsetting scene I've seen on screen in recent memory.

The depiction of the highly sexualised and gory murders of the killer's many female victims were also criticised to be misogynistic.

But in spite of the frequently fetishistic portrayal of the bisexual Lisbeth, I maintained that she is still a big, walking 'fuck-you' to the patriarchal expectations still ubiquitously held in society today. She is not someone who sits around to be rescued or avenged by a man. When her father physically and sexually abused her mother, a 12-year-old Lisbeth set him on fire with gasoline and a matchstick - a transgression which landing her in the psych ward, necessitating legal guardianship in the first place. Bjurman? She blackmailed him with video evidence of her beating and rape which she recorded with a concealed camera in her bag. She then proceeded to sodomise him with a huge dildo and tattooed "I am a sadistic pig and a rapist" on his belly. The original Swedish title for both the movie and the novel is Män som hatar kvinnor (Men Who Hate Women), and Lisbeth Salander visits vengeance on them all.

She may not win Miss Congeniality in a pageant anytime soon but she's sure a great anti-heroine to root for through all her tribulations and tragedies, and - more satisfyingly - her hard-won victories.

The Hollywood Adaptation.

Like its unsettling 2008 Swedish international sleeper hit counterpart Let the Right One In (a proper righteous vampire flick, this - unlike all those stupid Twilight celluloid shit-stains) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo plus sequels would cross the Atlantic. They have been put into the able hands of the David Fincher of Se7en and Zodiac fame, an accomplished director at filming thrillers. The three films would be adapted from Larsson's books directly, rather than from Niel's Arden Oplev's film trilogy. Good news number one.

At the moment, Daniel Craig is the top favourite to fill the shoes of Mikael Blomkvist, beating out bigger stars like Johnny Depp, George Clooney and Brad Pitt who were all rumoured to have expressed interest in the role. What concerns me more, however, is the actress who would find herself measured against Noomi Rapace's flawless inhabitation of the young and troubled goth-punk hacker's skin. Twilight's Kristen Stewart, An Education's Carey Mulligan and Ellen Page (Juno and Inception) are all in contention to play the part, amongst many others.

And I really, really hope Ellen Page gets it. I have fallen in love with her ever since I saw her in Hard Candy and I felt that she had more than proven herself capable of handling the damaged and unnerving psyche behind the Lisbeth Salander character in it. Moreover, Ellen turns 24 next year (the same age as Lisbeth in Dragon Tattoo) when Fincher expects to release the first film.

Physically, Lisbeth was described to be "doll-like" and has "delicate limbs, small hands and hardly any hips" in Larsson's writings. Ellen fits that description to a T! I mean, look at her,

Ellen Page Hard Candy
Ellen Page standing at an impish 5'1" in Hard Candy (2005). She's both doll-like and a veritable doll.

Besides, Hard Candy's Hayley Stark is a very similar character to Larsson's dark anti-heroine. She hates sick, abusive men (paedophiles, in her case). She metes out her own brand of vigilante justice on them. She even rocks a cool red hoodie analogous to Lisbeth's black one! Seems like the universe is in agreement with me on this!

Please don't disappoint me, Hollywood.

P.S. Not to be ageist here, but Noomi Rapace was like 30 when she first appeared as Lisbeth in the first film.

Addendum: Rooney Mara got the part in the Hollywood adaptation. From what little I saw of her in Youth in Revolt, I have no doubt that she would play Lisbeth Salander ably - but she's no Ellen Page. Sigh.

Likes his women hard as nails,
k0k s3n w4i


Ted said...

which uni u study medic ah?

McGarmott said...

Hey, now you can check out Michael Winterbottom's The Killer Inside Me (assuming you don't know about it at this point). It probably won't be available for downloading for some time yet though as it's only just been released in the US ...

Hilda Milda™ said...

I was expecting like a girl w/ really nice tattoo LOL

Michelle Chin said...

No no. Your blog is not flooded. :)

Anyway, I thought that Swedish films are mostly confronting. One way or another.

You should check out anklaget. Very damn disturbing.

RanDomApple$ said...

omg..she's 5'1"! There's one hollywood actress i could bring on a date! hehehehehe

of tr@vels, 3nvironment, 9hotography and bl@bl@bl@ said...

that girl's uniform looks like ghostrider uniform..minus flame

goingkookies said...

THis is definitely one of the best reviews of a movie I have ever read.

Although long ish.. i kept reading.. hungering to know more.. even the spoilers!!

wanted to buy the book but figured it might be a bore.. guess i might have to readjust that thought.

goingkookies said...

btw.. i so agree with u.. after reading about the story.. Ellen Page DEFINITELY fits the heroine part to the T as u put it!

i like her in juno and in whip it! she's one of a kind, that'sf or sure!

k0k s3n w4i said...

Teddy: shhh, that's classified intel!

McGarmott: i have been keeping an eye out for The Killer Inside Me actually - i do that for all up-and-coming psych trillers :) and if i have to resort to watching a pirated version, i always wait for a blu-ray rip.

Hilda Milda™: whoops, haha. but you can easily google those :)

Michelle Chin: thanks for the heads up! i'm definitely checking Anklaget out the first chance i get.

RanDomApple$: over my dead body, buddy. she's mine!

of tr@vels: what are you talking about? she has a halo of flame all around her head in the poster, LOL

goingkookies: you spoiled the movie for yourself? why?! you should watch it first... but then again, i'm sure knowing what would happen detracts little from the experience. it's that well made. and you should definitely give Hard Candy a look-see if you're a fan of ellen page. she's positively electrifying in it!