Directed by Niels Arden Oplev
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Those of us who love Stieg Larsson’s trilogy that begins with “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” have been amazed by the choices he’s made to populate the books: his hero is a 40-something-year-old journalist named Mikael Blomqvist, who has just been convicted of libelling a Swedish industrialist and will soon start a six-month prison term. The heroine is a 24-year-old woman named Lisbeth Salander, who has been raised as a ward of the state and who’s suffered under the hands of a series of sadistic rapists who became her state-mandated guardians.
In the months before he begins his sentence, Mikael is hired by an elderly industrialist named Henrik Vanger to help solve the 40-year-old disappearance of his niece during a local festival. Lisbeth, who’s been investigating Mikael for her own reasons, decides to help him in this wild goose chase. Lisbeth, no doubt on an Asperger’s spectrum – photographic memory, no human emotions that she can let out, a computer hacker like none you’ve ever seen before – begins to work with Mikael on the mystery. And yes, she has an enormous dragon tattoo on her back.
Henrik’s own family is unappetizing: three of his brothers were Nazi sympathisers during the war. His own daughter died of breast cancer years before; but he is willing to pay, now 40 years later, to find out whatever can be found about his niece. That’s the setup, and the film plays out the slow accumulation of facts about the niece and what may have happened that day.
What’s just as interesting as the accumulation of facts is the strange relationship that begins with Mikael and Lisbeth working on the mystery. She is never off her guard, he is a man too nice by far to take advantage of her, even assuming that he could. Director Niels Arden Oplev makes sure that we in the audience never learn more than they do. He and his writers, Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg, have removed a whole bunch of relationships that are in the book in order to concentrate on solving the mystery, but unless you’d like the whole novel transferred to the screen (and the film runs two-and-a-half hours, even in its streamlined form – and I assure you that you will never notice the time) there is plenty for you to enjoy. Lisbeth, particularly, is a heroine unlike any you’ve ever seen. She is both a prisoner of her abusive childhood and an incredibly single-minded woman who puts her own talents to work on the mystery. Together they are unlike any other team you can even think of.
Stieg Larsson, who was an investigative reporter and had never written fiction before, left us three novels before he died unexpectedly at age 44 – and there is some speculation that it was an unnatural death, caused by people he was investigating at the time. We may never know, but the books he left us are treasures enough for anyone. “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” is just the beginning; there’s much, much more to come.