19 January 2012

Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I love Half in the Bag. Which is odd, because you would naively expect a critic's value to be how much they are able to predict your reaction to a film, and I'm not sure HitB could even outperform a random number generator for me in that sense.

Still, though, they always manage to make interesting points about a movie. They're not even necessarily true, in my opinion- I disagree with a lot of what they say, especially for movies that I have seen myself. But it makes no difference. I'm still glad they bring up their points, because even though in my mind they are wrong, being forced to stop and think and figure out exactly why they are wrong, and to be made aware that it is even possible to have an opinion on the issue such as theirs, is a very satisfying thing for me. They've hated a few movies I thought were good, and they've raved about quite a few which I hated, but in either of situations it has never felt like a waste of time to watch the movies on which I disagree with them.

So ultimately, they are excellent critics- whenever I decide to see a movie based on what they say, I never regret the decision. They even supply something like insurance: Even if I think a movie sucks, I can still think about their commentary on it, and I will have gotten something worthwhile out of it anyway.

To get to the point...

So that's how I was convinced to watch The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Their episode dealing with it is quite good, so I'll just point you to it if you haven't seen it yet.

I guess I'll start with the rape scene. The way they talked about it, I was expecting something truly amazing and clever. What I got was a scene which is basically only there as a quick and dirty (har har) way of signalling to the audience that "this is bad guy, you should hate this guy". The floor polisher man, too, did nothing for me. Maybe the theater I was in just had a really shitty sound system, but I could only hear him before the blowjob part started. So, yeah.

They did manage to make the guy intensely unlikable, though. Granted, it's hard to fuck that up, when the character is one-dimensional and his one dimension is that he is a slimy sack of shit who rapes an adorable awkward, shy Rooney Mara. Still, it was interesting how they managed to make the second rape scene really uncomfortable.

I didn't really catch many "beautiful Sweden" scenes. There are several scenes where you glimpse the Swedish landscape, mostly covered in snow, but the landscape isn't really the focus of those scenes, and I didn't find any of it particularly captivating (maybe it's because I'm a bitter old man). What I did catch was how soul-crushingly bleak Sweden looked (probably also for the same reason). It was full of gray streets and gray houses with gray-blond people drinking gray tea in their pale rooms filled with beige-gray, blocky furniture. It was just like playing Skyrim! This time, though, it was at least appropriate, considering the tone of the narrative.

It was also interesting how some of the scenes were shot. One of my favorites is near the beginning: We see a character's office from where his laptop is sitting. He walks in, fiddles with something on a small table, then sits down behind the computer. Ordinarily, we'd watch him walk in, lean over the table, then turn around, walk to the computer and sit down. Instead, the movie cuts abruptly from him leaning towards the table to him sitting behind the computer like a little time-lapse video. It's not the first time it was done, of course, but it was still kinda cute.

Speaking of the Dragon Tattoo-Sweden, it was hilarious how everyone spoke with this Scandinavian accent, because you know, we're in Sweden, for 95% of the movie. The other 5% is when they travel to London, and even then, most of the talking in London is done by two Swedes with accent intact. I don't know what the point of it was, really.

The story

The development of the narrative follows the book very closely, and it seems the book is one of those books where it is obvious the author cares nothing for producing well-structured, "good" literature and just writes about whatever the hell he damn well pleases. It's a bit jarring and quite funny when some of this seeps into the movie- there's a part where Lisbeth, the eponymous (is it really an eponym if it's a narrator-given nickname?) girl with a dragon tattoo, just randomly goes to a bar and picks up a chick and sleeps with her. This serves no purpose other than show two chicks making out. It establishes Lisbeth as bisexual (as if it wasn't obvious already), and I guess you could draw some link between that and her history of sexual abuse, except it makes no difference. Her bisexuality has no bearing on anything at all in the rest of the movie (and it's kind of silly to consider sexual preference a big part of someone's personality, isn't it?) and it would have changed absolutely nothing if she was straight, so I dunno what's up with that. It was this funny "oh, and did I mention she's bi? Cuz she totally is, guys!" moment from the movie. Ssssure, movie. Whatever you say. :rolleyes:

Speaking of pointless things, what's with the cat? There's this cat that Mikael, the other main character, adopts and gradually bonds with over the course of the movie, and then the cat just... Dies. I mean, yeah, spoilers, but whatever. Anyway, they find the cat's mutilated corpse. And then... Nothing. The movie just forgets about it. What on earth was that for? It's not like the movie needed padding, it was long as fuck. Nor did Mikael need further establishing as a goody-two-shoes softie. And it was such a cute cat... What the hell, movie? Poor kitty. =(

Besides that, I had a very similar opinion of the structure and flow of the narrative to another "book movie" I saw recently, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. They both appear to follow their book pretty closely -I read neither- and the movie ends up feeling quite different from movies which are made straight from movie scripts. The plot doesn't have the familiar, simple, obvious elements that movie plots have, and you can't really break it down into "the story starts like so, then this guy does that, and then it concludes when this thing happens". It's just, "stuff happens", and the main plot isn't that central to the whole thing. I'm not sure if it's a good thing or bad, but it certainly makes for an interesting (and slightly odd) movie.


It was a bit of a hassle keeping track of who is who and whose relation to who is what. I imagine it was one of those thing which is described adequately in a book, for a book, and when it's a movie it's suddenly not as easy to follow anymore. I mean, in a book, a name is very prominent and effective as an identifier, partly because just about every book talks a lot about third persons. Watching people talk about other people is boring, on the other hand, so movies have characters say only their dialogue; and it's unnatural to say someone's name often when interacting with them, so I'm not surprised I lost track of all the Wernerströms and the Jorgens and the Hurgens and the Gurgens and what have you. Although, maybe it's just that I'm bad with names.

Lisbeth, and Mikael were quite interesting in general, though. Lisbeth herself is really weird, and has some weird (and nasty) stuff happen to her, and deals with it in cool ways which are interesting to watch. Mikael is actually quite boring, but it just so happens that a boring character like that is a perfect counterpart for Lisbeth, and it's funny to watch them interact.

I'm also not sure how I feel about Lisbeth looking gradually more "conventionally pretty" as the movie progresses. In her first appearance, she shows up with this weird mohawk and leather outfit. Then we keep seeing her looking much more conservative: She ties her hair in a ponytail, dresses in more usual clothes and puts on less crazy black make-up. The first time I saw Lisbeth, I thought, "man, what a weirdo", but later on I just thought she looked cute. It seemed somehow cheap and against the spirit of the character. Obviously, I'm supposed to think she is weird because that's her character, but I'm also supposed to like her because she's one of the protagonists. While the "normalization" of Lisbeth accomplishes both, in a sense, by the time I liked her she wasn't at all anymore, even though it seemed to me like the kind of character you're supposed to like despite them being weird.


From what I've seen, I get the impression that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, while not badly written, is hardly great literature. It seems like one of those "good bad books" (hope you don't find the hyperlinking too pretentious, but that's what I mean by the term). The movie is certainly a "good bad book movie". You don't take away much if anything from it, but you do enjoy seeing it.

The plot is really predictable (down to the cute bittersweet end), in that it's often obvious what kind of development (usually there's only one possibility) would make for an interesting story at any given point, and the movie doesn't disappoint in orchestrating exactly that development. On the flipside, although you can easily see what will happen next, it's not that obvious what will happen after that, because you can never tell where the movie goes with anything, so it's not such a tedious experience. As someone who has neither seen the older Dragon Tattoo movie, nor read the book, I can recommend seeing this movie if you are likewise unfamiliar with the franchise. Otherwise, well, you've read my review, make up your own mind.

Score: 4/5

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