(cw: sexual assault, abuse)
the girl with the dragon tattoo (2009, sweden) & the girl with the dragon tattoo (2011, usa)
i’m 90% sure this was only my second viewing of both films, but in a way that’s a bit deceptive. my first viewing of the swedish version was comparatively recent (may of 2017), whereas if i’m right about this being only my second viewing of the american version this was the first time i’ve seen it since i saw it in theaters (in january of 2012), and it was grossly overdue. one of the biggest differences between this viewing and my theatrical viewing is that when i saw it in theaters i had the strong impression that the pace was a bit too rushed, especially towards the beginning of the film. i just didn’t get that feeling at all this time, and i’m honestly not super sure how to account for the difference?
i don’t really know which version fits the “spirit of the novel” better. i read the novel once, nearly a decade ago, and i remember mostly appreciating the extremely tactile and immersive feeling of the narration. i think i jokingly referred to it as “investigative journalist simulator 2k5” or something like that at the time.
my feeling back when i had seen both of these only once was that the relative unknowns (to americans/me, anyway) in the swedish cast really matched my impressions of a lot of the characters in the books a lot better, but on this rewatch literally every single performer in the american cast grew on me over the course of the movie to the point where i actually think i prefer the casting in the american version for the most part.
there are three pretty specific exceptions to this general trend, though! one is robin wright (whom i love, don’t get me wrong) as erika. i never really stopped seeing her as robin wright in a slightly mismatched part. lena endre was a much more natural erika to me. the second exception actually goes completely in the opposite direction. the second i saw stellan skarsgård as martin, i was just like, “yeah. yep. yes. that is fucking perfect casting.” he didn’t need to grow on me over the course of the movie.
the more complicated exception is rooney mara vs. noomi repace, and here’s where i fall with that one: i am absofuckinglutely not choosing a favorite between the two and you can’t fucking make me. i will literally fight you. there are just so many indispensable parts of both performances and really it is so appropriate that their performances are the beating hearts of both movies (though i think the structure of the american version capitalizes on that drastically better).
… unfortunately it’s also kinda super appropriate that both of them receive second billing behind their respective mikael counterparts. and i’m not just rolling my eyes because of how fucking typical that is. the novel’s original swedish title translates to men who hate women, and i honestly feel like that might be a more appropriate (and provocative) title. because every version of this is so goddessdamn male-driven. which i guess makes sense given that it’s a male author and (in both cases) a male director/writers. i can’t entirely account for why, but the american version seems drastically more aware of the limitations this imposes and… actually kind of overcomes them to an extent? there are definitely things that aren’t perfect (mara’s lower billing being just one example), but like… the movie’s heart is so in the right place it’s just genuinely awesome. i kind of want to say i don’t care even a little which version is more faithful to the book? because fincher’s version is fucking perfect. (well… maybe. but we’ll come back to that.)
the most obvious differences between the two films are aesthetic. where fincher’s version is obviously characterized by his obsessively clean and precise cinematography, oplev gives us a more organic, straightforward aesthetic. i love that we have both films, because they both have quite a bit to offer on this front.
where oplev’s approach really pays dividends is that when everything feels more grounded, extraordinary moments like lisbeth chasing martin down on a motorcycle like an avenging angel achieve considerably more catharsis. on the other hand, the extreme moodiness provoked by fincher’s stark visuals and the trent reznor/atticus ross-scored soundtrack certainly fits in with what i remember of the novel’s overall mood.
what is surprising is the way oplev’s adaptation breaks from the source material in a few key details (and numerous inconsequential ones). it isn’t remotely a stretch to say that fincher’s adaptation is actually dramatically more faithful to the letter of the novel than oplev’s.
the alteration that jumps out at me the most in the swedish adaptation is that blomkvist is never offered information about wennerström by vanger. instead, we are to understand that his willingness to take on the case of harriet’s disappearance is motivated by remembering being babysat by her decades ago. this is a significant break with the text, and frankly a very “hollywood” type move, to give a character a personal, emotional motivation rather than letting him be brought in essentially as a mercenary and gradually ending up personally invested because of the particulars of the case itself.
i was also a little disappointed that the swedish version didn’t really go into how mikael and erika’s relationship worked, vis-à-vis erika’s husband knowing about it and being completely fine with it. mainstream depictions of polyamory are few and far between, and it’s just damn disappointing to see a chance for one squandered like that. (then again, if you’re an american and you’re watching the swedish version of the girl with the dragon tattoo, i have to assume there’s a fair chance that you’ve read the book and/or seen the american film. so, in my immediate vicinity at least, probably no real harm done here.)
of course, the biggest change was that when mikael barged into lisbeth’s apartment in this version, he didn’t bring bagels and coffee with him! inexcusable.
in all seriousness, i do actually think it’s rather telling what the swedish version leaves out/changes vs. what the american version leaves out/changes. in the swedish version we never even meet palmgren nor get any sense of how lisbeth feels about him. and that totally undermines our understanding of where lisbeth is emotionally. another big change that jumps out at me is the total omission of the cat that bonds with mikael and lisbeth. what’s really hitting me as i write about this is that while the swedish version felt more aesthetically grounded to me, the american version is more emotionally grounded, and that matters to me a heck of a lot more.
i do genuinely love the way lisbeth gets to be a tunnel-visiony avenging angel in the swedish version for like… wish-fulfillment reasons. like, her just chasing after martin, jumping on her motorcycle, and chasing him down is just such a fantastic sequence. but in the american version, there’s a little moment where lisbeth stops and asks mikael “may I kill him?” and that really gave me pause at first.
my initial thought was that lisbeth was asking mikael’s permission primarily because he was martin’s most recent victim–he was, in fact, still very much in the situation of being martin’s victim–but that felt incomplete somehow.
i knew i could ask my dear friend aleph for their take, based on previous conversations and the fact that they have written wonderfully about this film, specifically about the ways in which it recognizes lisbeth’s relationship with mikael not being safe for her. they agreed that what i initially got out of that line was maybe part of it, but also enumerated a number of other things that played into it.
obviously a dimension of the unhealthiness of lisbeth’s relationship with mikael is that she’s been burned by all of the older men in her life who were supposed to protect her. some of these are obvious (physical/emotional abuse, sexual assault), others are more subtle. lisbeth is falling in love with mikael, but she’s also looking for a father figure, and it’s clearly drastically unsafe to mix the two.
but then there’s the political dimension. lisbeth (a leftist who applies as much force as is warranted by any situation) is desperate for the approval of mikael… the centrist father-figure. and it’s in this context that she asks “may i kill him?” she knows killing him is the right thing to do. she doesn’t need to know if it’s right, she needs to know if it’s okay. and just… that lack of clarity was so stirringly familiar to me. i got very “good” at being a liberal for a while during the obama administration and even the clinton campaign. and during that time, i always tried to figure out the “right” thing to say/do and just… ended up with a very misguided understanding of what “right” was. it felt like i never really achieved clarity except on very, very obvious stuff, and in retrospect it’s pretty fucking clear that none of the positions liberals take are actually worth a damn because they never actually address the material conditions that cause the problems they decry. and that’s why aleph’s explication of lisbeth knowing the right thing to do, but being deeply confused over whether it would be “respectable”/ok with mikael, really felt “oh shit”/real/relatable to me.
now, one thing i’m still not entirely sure how to grapple with is the role violence against women plays in this movie. obviously it’s very difficult to escape depicting or at least discussing various forms of violence against women in a book/film that is being pretty intentional about dramatizing just how fucking depressingly common it is. i mean, again, its original title was men who hate women.
anyway, what i’m more or less trying to get to is that i still really don’t know how i feel about the rape scenes in either version of this movie, nor am i really sure how i feel about the rape scenes in the novel (and i’m not super qualified to talk about those because, again, i read it almost a decade ago). like… on the one hand i can see thinking they kinda needed to be there in some form, but on the other hand i’m just immediately uncomfy when a movie with a male director/writers based on a novel by a man has just quite so much rape in it, regardless of the reason for it. so i guess all of this is to say this is a really thorny subject and i really don’t have an especially well-developed understanding of how okay/not okay these scenes were. and this is really not a subject i want to be equivocating on this much, it just feels awkward not addressing it at all.
this is something i’m eventually gonna have to figure out, because i’m finding myself very much in the position of needing to consider whether the fincher adaptation belongs in my personal canon. for the moment i’m leaving it off, but my uncertainty regarding this aspect of the film is honestly the only reason i’m leaving it off for now.
(2009, sweden: a-rank) (2011, usa: a-rank)
the girl in the spider’s web (2018)
ok this was actually pretty bad. scenes weren’t really given a chance to breathe and the pacing just felt noticeably awful and the guy they got to replace daniel craig was just unbelievably boring. at least they kinda compensated for that by shoving him in the background & focusing on lisbeth more. this also missed david fincher something fierce, as the visuals for the most part just weren’t that interesting. and it treated violence against women as little more than a superficial motivation for lisbeth to be some kinda james bond lady, especially if we compare it to dragon tattoo. and holy shit don’t even get me started on how incredibly wrongheaded all the stuff with lisbeth’s sister was. yikes.
i’m kinda easy, so i did like:
- lisbeth as lesbian batman.
- it looked like there was a chase scene developing with some cops on lisbeth’s tail and she just totally trivialized them by jumping her motorcycle off a dock onto a hecking frozen lake and honestly the entire thing just freaking ruled.
- this text exchange: “sofia: when are you gonna fuck me again?” “lisbeth: not now. soon. i promise.” i know it turns out lisbeth just knew it was the government dude trying to reach her through sofia, but i like the idea that she’s just actually this cocky and/or used to dealing with thirsty bitches.
- there was an incredibly hot vacbed scene that i’m really just not remotely over. note to my future kidnapper: i really wanna try a vacbed sometime.