Movie Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
David Fincher might be the best and worst thing that happened to the English version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
As a director who knows how to psychologically scar his audiences (Fight Club, Zodiac), he has created a dark and beautifully crafted movie (even if it can be deeply disturbing with its monstrous rape scenes and vicious acts of revenge). While everything in the production, from the acting and directing to the cinematography and haunting music, comes together to make a thrilling suspense film, the darkness and power clearly don’t stem just from Fincher’s vision. They are a direct result of author Steig Larsson’s own demons (it has been reported that as a teenager Larsson witnessed a rape and did not step in to stop it) and experiences as an activist fighting racism and sexism (he spent many years of his adult life as a journalist battling neo-Nazis in Sweden). Dragon Tattoo is profoundly political and the writer’s personal perspectives are clear and strong. It is through Lisbeth Salander, an abused and marginalised woman, that the relevance of the themes invades your consciousness, while it is through actor Rooney Mara that it all leaps into your heart (watch the trailer below).
Mara’s portrayal and development of Lisbeth turns a hard woman, in very alien skin, into a sympathetic and inspirational hero. As Mara fleshes out her character, Lisbeth becomes three-dimensional. Lisbeth is far more complex and human than society would allow someone who walked down the street in a shroud of tattoos, piercings and brooding distrust to be. The violence and abuse of power that have scarred her have made her vulnerable and ferocious. She has super-hero qualities: a victim turned vigilante.
This is where Lisbeth as a character truly engages. Beyond her toughness is her personal moral code: her fearlessness to right wrongs and her willingness to use questionable tactics. As a hacker, Lisbeth is not just another anarchist or virtual break-and-enter artist. Like today’s hacker, she is a field-levelling, accountability-demanding champion. In a world of injustice, a world where the cards are stacked against the powerless, she believes the ends justify the means and grey trumps black and white.
Not everyone believes Fincher’s vision of Lisbeth is true to Larsson’s, though. It has nothing to do with her look, history or moral compass. On ONTD, a critic says Fincher has created a Lisbeth who is “sexualised, softened, romanticised and less empowered.” All true, but to what extent? Make no mistake, she is still strong, tough and enigmatic. She may open up to a man, but having Lisbeth show softness towards another person doesn’t make her a weak-kneed doll, it makes her human. Granted though, as the movie progresses, ONTD is right in saying the increased sexualisation of Lisbeth is disappointing. This is not the fault of the Oscar-nominated Mara, but of Fincher and the Hollywood paradigm from which he has evolved and operates.
While not nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, the film has been nominated by the academy in the areas of cinematography, film editing, sound editing, as well as sound mixing. Still, for many diehard fans, this film would not even win “Best Version” when put up against the original Swedish movie, forget comparisons to the book. A better way to judge this movie is as a stand-alone movie. So as a psycho-thriller, is it worth seeing?
The film is backed by a story truly representative of the times in which we live. In a world of extremes and animosity, pain and oppression, frustration and injustice, Lisbeth is someone who has felt it all and finds a way of doing more than just surviving. Misunderstood and discarded, she is outside the mainstream, put there by the mainstream. But instead of simply watching the mainstream (a place of strict divisions: left vs right, liberal vs conservative, poor vs rich) and the people at its centre fight and destroy each other, Lisbeth is not one to remain indifferent or apathetic to all those (those of every stripe) who have spurned her. She will step back into the world of the mainstream in the name of what’s good and true, even though if the roles were reversed, no one would step up to help an outcast like her. We need more heroes like Lisbeth Salander. So it doesn’t matter that Fincher has forced Mara to portray an ever-so slightly softened version of Lisbeth. Lisbeth alone remains strong and brave enough to lift The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo from a stylish, dark piece of entertainment to a meaningful story that fuels introspection. Nonetheless, it is impossible not to wonder how a feminist director would have re-created Lisbeth and redrawn the image of the female Hollywood hero.
Click play to watch the theatrical trailer:
This movie review is part of a Newsline series that looks at some of the Oscar-nominated films for 2012. Hugo received 11 Academy Award nominations.
Click on the links below to read more reviews on Oscar-nominated films:
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