Saturday, October 15, 2016

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" (2009 Swedish version):
listicle review

Here are some scattered thoughts about the 2009 Swedish version of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," directed by Niels Arden Oplev and starring Noomi Rapace as the asocial genius hacker Lisbeth Salander, with Michael Nyqvist as journalist Mikael Blomkvist.

1. The soundtrack for the Swedish version is ponderously orchestral and more earnest-sounding, if that makes any sense. The more jumbled, modernist soundtrack for the US-produced version of the film helped cultivate a more bitter, cynical ambiance. The Swedish version is downright sentimental by comparison.

2. Major story beats are similar between the two films, given that both films are adaptations of the same Swedish novel by the late Stieg Larsson.

3. If it's a Noomi-versus-Rooney contest, I think I like Rooney Mara's take on the Lisbeth Salander character better. Part of the reason isn't Mara herself: it's her costume design. With her irretrievably chaotic hair, facial piercings, and whitened eyebrows that disappear into her forehead, Mara looks more convincingly goth than Rapace does. Rapace's Lisbeth wears a spiked dog collar around her neck; to me, this seems like some out-of-touch costume designer's corny attempt to give the character a punkish look. But Rooney Mara also takes the cake in terms of acting: Rapace's Lisbeth lacks that hard, quasi-autistic edge—the consistently clipped and frosty tone of voice that Mara's Lisbeth uses even when she's talking with Mikael Blomkvist, her lover. Rapace takes the cake for a better dragon tattoo, though.

4. The Swedish version doesn't end with Lisbeth heartbroken after seeing Blomkvist back with Erika Berger. In the Swedish version, Berger barely registers as a presence. We know enough details to understand that Erika is intimate with Blomkvist, but there's no implication that she's cheating on her husband to be with him (or even that she's married). Meanwhile, by the end of the Swedish film, Lisbeth and Mikael are still friends and possibly still lovers, even though she's aware that Mikael is with Erika.

5. The other story problem I'd mentioned in my previous review—that Lisbeth jumps into bed with Blomkvist despite being the victim of a brutal rape—appears in the Swedish version as well. In reading about the movie, I saw that some people have classified Lisbeth Salander as a sort of "adolescent's fantasy": she's smarter and wiser than her years, and competent as hell, but she's still young, sexy, and sex-hungry. Mara and Rapace handle Lisbeth's sexuality rather differently, I think; Rapace's interpretation of the character makes for a more vulnerable Lisbeth, and the Swedish costume design allows Rapace's natural beauty to show through more easily. Mara's appearance in the US film, by contrast, is scruffier and far less appealing, which means we have to work harder to see Lisbeth's beauty beneath her surface appearance. The US film's approach is, I think, the better and more sensible of the two.

6. I didn't recognize any of the Swedish actors in the Swedish version aside from Rapace and Nyqvist (whom I knew from his role as Kurt Hendricks in "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol"). And it's a shame to watch a Swedish film without Max von Sydow in it.

7. The US version of "Tattoo," almost stereotypically, relies more on guns than did the Swedish version. This is especially true during Mikael's torture/revelation-in-the-basement scene (which occurs in both versions): in the US version, Lisbeth rescues Mikael, grabs a gun, and pursues the killer; in the Swedish version, Lisbeth allows the killer to run out, chases him on her bike until he crashes his SUV, then lets him slowly burn alive. In the US version, the killer's SUV explodes after the chase, making for a quicker death.

8. The sequence of events is slightly different. In the US version, Mikael and Lisbeth don't have sex until after Mikael gets grazed by a bullet. In the Swedish version, it's the other way around: the two have sex, and Mikael is grazed by a bullet later on while he's jogging.

9. Both movies employ flashbacks, albeit somewhat differently. In the US version, the flashbacks are longer and more languid; in the Swedish version, the flashbacks are more scattered, pastiched, and quickly paced. The Swedish version also relies more heavily on montage sequences to show Lisbeth and Mikael hard at work on their research.

10. Another significant difference is that, in the Swedish version, it's Lisbeth who clues Mikael in on the fact that the mysterious numbers in Harriet's diary are actually Bible verses. This is, in fact, how Lisbeth and Mikael come to meet: Lisbeth sends Mikael an email with her insights under her hacker pseudonym "Wasp," which Mikael eventually traces back to her. In the American version, Mikael puzzles out the numbers with the help of his daughter (who is going through a religious phase, and who is handy with a Bible), and he finds out about Lisbeth after talking with her employers, who had hired her to do a background check on Mikael before allowing him to meet with Henrik Vanger.

11. Both movies make clear that Lisbeth is bisexual: when Mikael tracks Lisbeth down at her apartment, she's in bed with her female lover.

12. When Mikael finds Harriet in the US version of the story, she's in England. In the Swedish version, Mikael has to travel all the way to Australia to find her.

13. Overall, I think I may like the US version of the story better than the Swedish one. I'm not even sure whether it's proper to term the US film a "remake," as it seems to be a direct adaptation of the novel, just as the Swedish version was. Some critics have said that the US version actually hews closer to the original novel than does the Swedish version, and reviews are mixed as to which film is better. The Swedish version isn't bad at all, but it feels a bit more straightforward and less murky than the American version, especially with that earnest orchestral score. As mentioned above, Rooney Mara's version of Lisbeth Salander feels edgier than Noomi Rapace's, although both versions of Lisbeth have something to recommend them.

14. By all means, watch both versions and decide for yourself. They're both good.

1 comment:

John from Daejeon said...

I was very disappointed by the U.S. version being only the first 1/3 of the story after being blown away by the entire Swedish trilogy starring the evolving Rapace. There's a reason Rapace became an "international" star, and it wasn't for part one of the trilogy. It was for the latter two parts of "The Girl" trilogy. Both "Fire" and "Hornet's Nest" are quite good. One, of the two, is great, but I can't remember which one off the top of my head.

By the way, you might want to watch the short Netflix TV show Stranger Things for a horrifyingly fantastic trip back to the 80's. Here's the trailer to this homage to the 80's and the rekindling of Winona Ryder's career (pun intended, but you need to watch to get the reference).