December 20, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Leaving the theatre after watching the English reboot of Stieg Larsson's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo", my host reminded me that Larsson had intended to name this first installment "Men Who Hate Women."

Do they ever.

Under a thin, Ikea-ish veneer of old European class and modern elegance, is a Scandanavian world full of exploitation, sexual violence and murder. Everyone in this movie has a basement of secrets. In the corner of our eyes, we can see this darkness is humming along in the world, dragging people (frequently women) under the water. You could call it an underworld, but its hardly hiding and the strong suggestion of the film (and the books) is we're complicitly ignoring this evil.

(Watching GWTDT, I couldn't help but think of our own missing and murdered women here in Manitoba)

Enter Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) - hacker and punk anti-hero - wearing a shirt that reads Fuck You, You Fucking Fuck. A ward of the state since she was 12, Salander is emotionally disturbed, antisocial, and wonderful. She's defiantly sexual, despite a history of abuse; uninhibitedly violent in response to attacks; scarred by her upbringing and fearless in revenge. With her omnipotent access to online secrets, she's the avenging demon we know we need (At one point she asks Blomkvist for permission to kill. You nod along with him).

Salander is a gift role for any actor and Mara builds an impressive performance. She inhabits the body of a slouched, stringy outsider who's built layer upon layer upon layer of defense. There's no emotional showboating in her performance, despite the temptation for a weeping display of vulnerability. Only small touches reveal Lisbeth's capacity for warmth; a capacity she'll never get to explore. The other characters - like Daniel Craig's decent Mikael Blomkvist and Stellan Skarsgard's good Martin Vanger - pale beside her (ironically).

David Fincher catches these good performances from his cast, and does an okay job building the story's grim atmosphere. Editing the massive novel is (unsurprisingly) more trouble. The last section of the movie is rushed to reduce time (it's already 158 minutes). And that's a shame, because it's the story of Salander's special gift to Blomkvist. She risks her life and freedom once more for him, taking down an international businessman/criminal to restore her friend's reputation. After which, he promptly forgets her. That's a movie in itself.

The Millenium Trilogy is a zeitgeist phenomenon and Lisbeth Salander a zeitgeist character. As economic, societal and environmental pressures escalate around the world - as it becomes increasingly clear a showdown is coming between the forces who back the status quo and those who don't - the desire to have Lisbeth Salander's potency grows. There's a convicting power in this story to get up and do something.

That's reason enough to see it, even if you haven't read the books.


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