Revisiting a Bad Girl – The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo- (2011), directed by David Fincher
I was a bad boy. At least that is what the sisters at Holy Rosary thought of me, probably because too many of the wrong question blurted out of my mouth:
· If God was all good and all-powerful, was he capable of doing evil?
· Since Adam was created from the earth, and Eve from his rib, did they have navels?
· Did Jesus never marry because he was a priest?
Questions like this annoyed Sister Mary Lacrimata. They made the other kids in the fifth grade titter. It disrupted order. Consequently, I was labeled a smart aleck, a troublemaker. Sister, however, failed to consider a few significant things:
- My parents and my sisters were survivors of the Second World War. I overheard stories. It made me wonder about God’s part in all of this.
- The first book of the Encyclopedia Britannica had recently arrived at home. My curiosity was riveted by the section on human anatomy
- Moreover, since it had already been explained to us in the fourth grade that priests do not marry because they emulated Christ, it only stood to reason that Jesus may have been a priest.
Fifth grade was a very tough year, measured by numerous notes sent home, family conferences with the Sister Principal, and time in detention. The last straw however dropped when with the pastor of Holy Rosary Church confronted my parents after Sunday Mass and said, “What kind of heretic are you raising here?” At the close of the school year, my sister Marie convinced my parents that if I were ever to get into a decent high school we would have to leave Holy Rosary parish. We moved to the opposite side of Baltimore. I entered the sixth grade at Sts. Philip and James School. There, the new sisters took a careful look at me, because they were a bit confused. My Holy Rosary grades showed high achievement in all subjects except for Deportment, which consistently had a big fat D in the grade column. Then, in the seventh grade, my homeroom teacher, Sister Agnes, asked if I would volunteer to help a graduate student of Psychology, who happened to be doing some fieldwork at the school, by taking a few tests. The results were never shared with me, but two years later, with the encouragement of the sisters at St. Philip and James, my parents enrolled me at Loyola, a Jesuit high school in the Baltimore suburbs that encouraged bad boys like me to ask the kind of questions that Sister Mary Lacrimata disliked so much.
This is why there has always been a special place in my heart for “bad” boys and girls. As a college professor, well-behaved students seldom visited my office. Instead, my tiny space was regularly invaded by apprenticing pirates and circus folk –an offbeat, rebellious, smart, and clever brood who were usually suspected by the rest of the faculty of being the source of all the major trouble on campus. Most of the time, they were. They were unruly, impossible to control, and an enormous amount of fun. That’s why when several years ago a fictional character named Lisbeth Salander entered my life, it felt like coming home.
I never just read Steig Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy. I leapt into it like a hungry beast devouring each page as it were my last meal. The Scandinavian films, although streamlined versions of the books, and subtitled, became my favorite series to rerun. It was due primarily to the work of Noomi Rapace whom, in my opinion, was the definitive Lisbeth Salander. The general movie going public, however, did not share my enthusiasm for the films. The reason was – it was just too hard to follow the film and read the subtitles at the same time. I wondered. Why is it that we Americans, who are capable of talking on the cell phone, eating an egg McMuffin and touching up our appearances in the rear view mirror while driving our automobiles at sixty mile per hour in rush hour traffic, have such a difficult time with the subtitles? The films were excellent. Nevertheless, the reaction was cult-ish, at best.
When Sony Pictures, in conjunction with Columbia pictures, announced that a new English version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo would be released in 2012, American audiences relished the prospect of “finally” seeing the story on film.
I was skeptical. Daniel Craig of James Bond would be the new Mikael Blomkvist, a role already admirably performed by Michael Nyqvist. Rooney Mara, the sweet young thing of Social Network, would play Lisbeth Salander. Several things bothered me:
· There was already a perfectly good film rendition of the entire Trilogy available.
· American remakes of foreign films seldom work (a perfect example is Vanilla Sky a poor attempt at remaking the excellent Spanish film Open Your Eyes).
· Noomi Rapace was Lisbeth Salander. Any new attempt to reinvent the role seemed futile.
Curiosity, however, always gets the better of me. A week after the film debuted in Denver, my credit card the counter of the neighborhood multiplex. I was pleasantly surprised.
It is always difficult for me to view a remake of anything objectively. The temptation of comparison is too strong. However, director David Fincher’s rendition succeeds in further enhancing the characters of the books. Michael Nyqvist’s portrayal of Blomkvist in the Swedish version secured Blomkvist’s sensitive, caring and intensely loyal nature. Unfortunately, he did not physically resemble the character in the book. Daniel Craig, on the other hand, is the spitting image of the novel’s hero. His version of Blomkvist, however, is more withdrawn, introspective, sensitive to the opinions of others. He doesn’t illicit as much sympathy for Blomkvist as did Nyqvist. Craig however, succeeds better in capturing Blomkvist’s soulful nature. Robin Wright as Erica Berger, Blomkvist’s publisher and long time lover, brings to the screen Berger’s sensuality, something not enough by Lena Endre in the Swedish version. Christopher Plummer as Henryk Vanger, the retired tycoon who hires Blomkvist to find his niece’s killer, adds a tinge of impishness to a character that could otherwise seem morose. Stellan Skarsgard portrays Martin Vanger. Skarsgard is a veteran Swedish actor, seen in many American films, yet, an artist whose name the audiences seldom remember. His work is fascinating. His Martin Vanger, r, a charmer with a demon’s soul, is both enthralling and frightening. He has the best line in the film:
“Take your drink. Leave my knife.”
The real surprise of the film is Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander. I must admit, that prior to the film, I was completely prejudiced against her. No one, in my opinion could equal Noomi Rapace. Mara just seemed too pretty to do the role any justice. However, this young actress chose not only to play Salander’s toughness, but also her deep-rooted vulnerability. It allowed Salander to in love with Blomkvist. It made the eventual abandonment that much sadder. Rooney’s Salander is sexier than Rapace’s, although Rapace’s version is still my favorite. Nevertheless, Rooney Mara has earned my respect for her work.
This new version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is not as dark as the Swedish, Yellow Bird films version. Yet, this rendition is loyal to the book and tells the story very well. Fans of the Millennium Trilogy will not be disappointed. It is worth the price of the ticket.
Although the film is not a blockbuster, it has attracted a respectable amount of positive reaction. Accordingly, Sony Pictures and Columbia have announced their intention to produce the second of the series, The Girl Who Played With Fire. My only hope is that the cast and the director do not change. These kinds of changes tend to dilute sequels. Yellow Bird films had the advantage of momentum. The Trilogy was filmed sequentially without interruption. I hope that the next English version will be able to recapture the pace set by the current release. It would be a shame to lose Lisbeth Salander’s story.
Of course, as always, this is only my opinion. See the film, dear reader, and judge for yourself.
(Post Script – For a commentary about the original Yellow Bird Films production of the Millennium Trilogy read my earlier article “A Heroine for the New Millennium”)