It’s somewhat difficult to express the disappointment I feel at this moment. I just watched the American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and it was awful. What the Swedish version of the film and the book had in common was an awareness of how to tell a story about a woman who is different. By turns brilliant, sociopathic and sullen, in both the Swedish film and the book Lizbeth would do anything rather than show vulnerability. Let me note some of the major difference between the movies and the problems I had with them.
1. From the beginning of the Swedish version, we learn about and kind of fall in love with Lizbeth. A quality of equal parts hurt and fury along with extreme distrust radiates from her. When Lizbeth was brutally attacked in the subway by thugs, she takes real physical damage. The attack is about her being a woman who looks the way she does. It makes her a victim automatically. Women understand this because they know the feeling of having to be alert for unprovoked attacks by men. It becomes as natural as breathing for women to scan for danger. Even though she is attacked and beaten, she doesn’t stop fighting, and every woman who sees the film identifies with her and cheers. In the American version, a guy tries to steal her computer and she chases him down, retrieving it. It’s used as a plot device to have her laptop broken. It was broken in the Swedish version too, but as a result of her bashing her attacker with it.
2. The relationship she has with her guardian is not at all true to the book in the American version. Here, she is portrayed as caring and on top of her guardian’s whereabouts and care. SO NOT THE CASE in either the Swedish version or the book. Lizbeth lives huddled within herself and suspects everyone of being out to get her and sees no one as trustworthy. When her guardian is injured in the book and in the Swedish film, she is notified by phone and displays apprehension at the idea of a new guardian along with dismay, but she doesn’t visit him. The book makes a point of her assuming he is dead and not following up until the end of the book. The American version makes her seem more caring, more feminine in the way she looks after him rather than seeing Lizbeth as a person who is also a woman.
3. When Rooney Mara is forced to blow her new guardian, I watched it thinking of how she is just enduring it. The guardian acts like it’s no big deal, just a way to prove she can be “sociable/socialized.” He doesn’t come across as sadistic, just corrupt. So many women have just endured this type of thing. Honestly you can’t get most men to understand or believe the actual amount of mundane non-consensual sexual violence in women’s daily lives. In the Swedish version, she also endures it, but the guardian is much more threatening and uses his power over her ruthlessly. He is clearly sadistic and takes pleasure from her pain and humiliation. The sex act is about domination and you can see in Noomi Rapace‘s face how furious she is at being put in this position and somehow you know she is going to fix that bastard. When she does fix him, she tattoos “I am a sadistic pig and a rapist” on his chest, in the US version it’s shortened.
4. In the rape in the American version, again the guardian is portrayed as almost concerned for Rooney Mara at the same time as he abuses her. This is not true to the book or the Swedish film where he is violent, dominating and laughs at her helplessness. You need to see that, read that in order to understand the vengeance she wreaks upon him. It seems entirely justified. He doesn’t offer to drive her home! as he does in the Fincher version. He gets done with her and kicks her out of the apartment as if to remind her how valueless she is, how helpless she is and how no one will believe anything she might say.
5. In the US version Mikael Blomkvist is portrayed as putting together most of the pieces on his own and only needing Rooney Mara to track down information. In the book and the Swedish version he is portrayed as gentle, a nice guy and as someone who is unable break out of his comfort zone to find answers to solve the riddle. It’s Noomi Rapace who solves the puzzle of the code in the BIBLE Harriet left behind. She is the one who is monitoring every thing he does and finally decides to send him an anonymous email to clue him in. She is the protagonist, not MB.
6. When MB goes to Lizbeth’s flat in the US version, he is obnoxious and pushy and she ACCOMMODATES his behavior. In the Swedish version, she is completely non-responsive and he is clearly taken aback. She isn’t concerned about his feelings or thoughts about her. Again the US version places him in the “driving” role when in the book and in the Swedish version he is portrayed more as a supplicant dealing with someone who is so far gone she doesn’t acknowledge simple courtesies like offering him coffee. In the US version he brings coffee and food as if she needs him to provide it for her whereas in the Swedish version he notes that she doesn’t offer him anything and asks if he can make some coffee. She continues to hold herself aloof. In a situation like this women are expected to “play hostess” but this is completely foreign to her.
7. One of the most egregious changes was after Lizbeth rescues MB from the murderer and in the US version ASKS MB IF SHE CAN KILL HIM. And he says yes. WTF?!!! That is so far from who Lizbeth is it’s ridiculous. They then show her approaching the downed vehicle with the murderer inside with her gun out. Before she can get to him, the car explodes because it has slammed into a giant propane tank. Contrast that with the Swedish version in which she rescues MB and then without a word pursues the murderer. She forces him off the road and approaches on foot where he begs for help, but she just stands there and watches. She has time to save him but she doesn’t. When the gas tank explodes and he starts to burn, she stands there watching. The Swedish movie takes this moment to show us a flashback of Lizbeth running up to a man in a BMW, dousing him with lighter fluid and then setting him on fire. Her face is flat as she watches the murderer burn and you have a sense that this is justice. Swift and merciless. Later MB asks her if she could of saved him and she says yes. He frowns and goes to remonstrate with her and she turns on him vehemently. With cold fury she reminds him that he was a sadistic murderer who preyed on women and in no way a victim. In the book its even more explicit with MB portrayed as torn by her actions. Hating that she allowed the murderer to die, but understanding that only Lizbeth has a strong enough sense of internal justice to do what was required. So asking permission and him giving it? Totally WRONG.
8. One other instance that makes me believe Fincher was just immune to the broader themes of misogyny and gender behavior is the sexual encounter with MB. In the Swedish version, Lizbeth initiates the sex, stays on top and controls what happens and HIS orgasm is portrayed as incidental. This is a person who has been so abused that she cannot abide any kind of sex where she is not completely in control. The next morning when Lizbeth wakes up she finds that MB has made breakfast and is acting the part of the girl in this type of scenario. She finds his behavior unsettling enough to walk right by and outside to stare off over the water and smoke leaving MB bemused and helpless. She has no idea how to deal with someone demonstrating what would be normal loving behavior. In the US version, she initiates the sex, but after only being on top for a moment he flips her over so he is in the dominant position. The next morning SHE is the one who has made breakfast and even says “I like working with you.” Do you see the difference? One illuminates her character, one reduces her to a girl who can be won by the guy and who’ll even change dramatically to please him. Made me want to barf because it is such a betrayal of the themes of the story…which is a social commentary on misogyny and corruption.
So, extremely disappointing. Also the US version did a terrible job of introducing Lizbeth’s nerdy compatriot Plague. Losers!
So my recommendation is that you see the Swedish films and don’t even bother with the U.S. version. I thought it would be interesting to see what someone with Fincher’s stature would do with the story. I was wrong. I won’t see the rest if they are even made. Apparently the box office reflects the inferiority of the product.