The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Issue section: 
Issue: 
(345)

Director Niels Arden Oplev; Release date: 12 March

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the film adaptation of the first book in Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy. The book has fascinated millions of readers, including myself, so I was nervous that the film might taint that memory. But it did not.

The intricate narrative is pared down for the film - it could have been six hours long otherwise - but the feel of the characters and their interactions are faithfully represented.

The story revolves around campaigning journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist). He is recruited by Henrik Vanger, an ageing industrialist, to solve the mystery of his niece Harriet Vanger's disappearance 40 years earlier on Hedeby Island.

Blomkvist is in professional exile after losing a libel case involving the head of a multinational corporation, so he moves to the remote Swedish island to work on the case.

The landscape is bleak, and the director effectively uses light and camera to make the viewer feel the cold and isolation, mirroring how Blomkvist feels. But he finds a companion in Lizbeth Salander, an experienced hacker who accesses his computer and offers him a lead. The two form a fascinating working relationship.

Salander is an admirable character, and her portrayal by Noomi Repace is captivating. She is a troubled person. Despite being 24 years old she is forced to have a legal guardian who abuses her. But she strikes back in a violent and dignified way, turning the tables on him. As Blomkvist and Salander track the disappearance of Harriet they discover a horrific string of rapes and murders of women all over Sweden.

The abuse of women runs through the plot. We see Salander attacked by a group of drunken men in a subway station. She retaliates with her fists and a broken bottle to see them off. The film manages to deal with all these events with grace and dignity. The women are not portrayed as victims, particularly Salander, but neither are they held up as unscarred warriors or unbreakable.

One of the first things that struck me about the film was that the actors all look like ordinary people - wrinkles are not airbrushed and hair has not been smoothed. I think the film gives lots of people something to aspire to. The media would be a better place with more journalists like Blomkvist - diligent, principled and slightly obsessive. And for directors thinking of making an outstanding book into a film, take note.