The first port of call in appraising this film is to point out that this article is in reference to the original, Swedish, 2009 version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, rather than the Americanised 2011 re-make starring Daniel Craig. That having been established, in this article we aim to explore the merits of a remarkable and moving piece of Swedish cinema based on the first edition of the best-selling series of Stieg Larsson novels- The Millennium Series. What makes the film remarkable is the way it breaks with conventions that are so often abided by within the crime-drama genre, this differentiates the film but it’s also immensely well made, well-acted and well written. The film also, in some ways, offers a glimpse into Swedish culture and sparked a growing trend of Scandinavian dramas that have followed it, including series like The Killing, Borgen and The Bridge.
The eponymous Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, whose name is Lisbeth Salander, is played by Noomi Rapace. Rapace pulls of the role perfectly and Salander’s dark past and erratic personality make it a demanding one, notably as a result of this performance Rapace was catapulted into roles in big-budget productions including Promethius and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Salander’s past is made implicit through-out, with brief flashbacks and occasional hints found in the films’ dialogue, but at no point is the reasoning behind the stark events in the flashback made clear. This device works perfectly to give Lisbeth the air of mystery the other characters no-doubt see her as having, in effect the viewer is made to wonder what happened to her before the film’s events just as the other main character, Mikael Blomqvist, is. Blomqvist is played by, (the not entirely dis-similarly named,) Michael Nyqvist who also puts in a commendable performance as the framed journalist-turned-detective, notably he too was soon thrown into a big-budget role following the film’s release, his came in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.
She is not belittled but put on a pedestal as a damaged hero for the viewer to admire and attempt to understand.
At the start of the film both characters find themselves between a rock and a hard place, Blomqvist is sentenced to six months in prison which he is to serve later and Lisbeth finds herself in the clutches of a new ‘guardian’ who is intended to function as a sort of parole officer but instead sexually exploits her. All this changes though when they are both roped into solving the 40 year old murder case of the high-flying business-man’s niece. Grappling with this case is the mainstay of the film’s plot and the journey to un-covering a mystery drenched in family feuding and ancient leads is an interesting one that keeps the viewer in as much suspense as it does the investigators. A pain-staking process and the discovery of more, similar murders see the ‘cold-case’ heat up and soon the pair are made to feel very un-welcome by the weary, tight-lipped family members of their employer.
The film also deals impressively with the immensely difficult issue of how rape (alongside the hidden aspects of her past,) affects Lisbeth’s psyche. In some respects this is one of the main focuses of the film and she remains just as much a mystery as the case of the missing woman. She is quiet, clinical, socially distant and highly un-predictable. While her ordeal no doubt affects her she is also very capable and far from helpless and while her character suffers horribly, she also achieves remarkable feats of logic and heroism- ultimately she is not belittled but put on a pedestal as a damaged hero for the viewer to admire and attempt to understand.
Overall it’s the masterfully depicted enigma that is Lisbeth that gives The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo its uniqueness and its lasting appeal- that said, the murder-mystery-esque side that follows Blomqvist’s attempts to trace old leads and find new answers, is also a thrill and his role, (as a man on the precipice of conviction who finds a new obsession,) sets him apart from the myriad of detectives that rival him in similar films. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo enthrals, grips and gives the viewer a lot to think about. When it’s finished any viewer is sure to want to take in the sequels- The Girl who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest.
By George Storr