Director Niels Arden Oplev’s movie of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (the first book in the Millennium Trilogy) is more harrowing than the novel, and as thrillers go, it had me on the edge of my seat. The subtitles did nothing to belittle my enjoyment.
Noomi Rapace plays the part of Lisbeth Salander and is very much how I imagined her from reading the book, right down to her piercings, her suspicious, angry eyes and her girl-like body. From the very first scene in the movie we see Salander being brutalized by a gang of youths in a subway, and nobody comes to her aid. That just about sums up her whole life to date: abuse, and no-one to protect her. In my opinion, this is more impactful that the “soft” introduction of Salander in the novel, which is via Dragan Armansky, whose opinion of her is the reader’s first, slightly removed, introduction to this character.
The Director takes great pains to show why Salander is such a damaged person: via a flashback of Salander as a little girl setting fire to her father, and through a visit to her brain-damaged mother, it is made very clear that her father was abusive and Salander’s actions were to protect her mother. The Director has taken a bit of poetic license here, since a reader of the Millennium Trilogy doesn’t learn the details of her childhood until the second book, The Girl Who Played With Fire.
The rape of Salander by the very man who should be protecting her, her legal guardian, Advokat Bjurman, is horrifically brought to life in the movie. I could hardly watch. This scene summed up one of the central themes of the book and indeed the movie: abuse of women and a corrupt system that allows it to continue. Salander’s mother, Salander herself and the “missing” girl, Harriet Vanger, were all brutalised and raped and they had nowhere to turn for help. In desperation, Salander tried to kill the abuser, whereas Harriet fled the country.
I was glad the movie raced through the period Mikael Blomkvist spent researching the disappearance of Harriet Vanger. As an impatient reader, who likes plot to move quickly, I found the first half of the book – in which Mikael does his investigating – a bit slow-going . Another interesting point of difference between the book and the movie is the very deliberate change in Blomkvist’s character. The Director must have decided to drop his womanising behaviour and his somewhat confronting attitude to sex: his long standing affair with his Editor and his bed-hopping with many of the female characters was conspicuously absent from the movie. Instead, he was a “nice” man who only sleeps with Salander, and only then because she seduces him. Whilst this alteration makes him easier to like, it makes him less complex and therefore less interesting. Nobody likes a goody-two-shoes, particularly in a hero. Bring on the character flaws!