The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (scheduled to open in limited release this Friday), a man is warned: “Lisbeth is a pretty odd girl.” Glum, leather-clad, and sporting multiple piercings in addition to the skin art of the title, Lisbeth quickly proves herself not only a startling sight but a force to be reckoned with.
This bracing new film is based on the novel by the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson. Unpublished at the time of his death in 2004, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first in what is referred to as Larsson’s Millennium series. The first two books (the second is The Girl Who Played with Fire) have become international bestsellers and the third, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, is due out in the US later this spring.
The books have sold over 8 million copies worldwide to date. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has been #1 on the Los Angeles Times paperback bestsellers list for the past two months. The film version is the highest-grossing Swedish film in history, and won the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature at January’s Palm Springs International Film Festival.
Lisbeth Salander is the heart of the series, but she isn’t your typical literary or cinematic heroine. Despite being on probation and under a court-ordered conservator’s care following a crime she committed as a child, Lisbeth is an avenging angel who has zero tolerance for bullies, misogynists and unethical business people. She faces all three, as well as murderous Nazi sympathizers, in this initial mystery-thriller adapted from Larsson’s works.
What’s more, Lisbeth is unapologetically bisexual. She beds men and women, both on the page and on the screen. As played memorably by Noomi Rapace in the film, Lisbeth is physically strong but emotionally fragile. She’s also undeniably sexy. The character’s intellectual and moral superiority make her all the more attractive, and Rapace fully conveys Lisbeth’s complexity. Lisbeth bemoans the male domination of the Internet during a web search by asking, “Why do female names always take you to porn sites?”
In the novels and film, Lisbeth comes to the aid of a crusading financial journalist, Mikael Blomqvist (well played by Swedish superstar Michael Nyqvist). Blomqvist becomes a pariah in the wake of a fraud trial involving a powerful banker. Not only does the tycoon get off, but he also slaps Blomqvist with a libel suit. Suspended by the publication he writes for, Millennium, Blomqvist must find a way to clear his name.
He receives significant assistance from Salander, who is herself locked in a battle of wills with her vile new caretaker. At first, Salander keeps her identity a secret from Blomqvist. Good journalist that he is, though, Blomqvist soon tracks Salander down and discovers her in bed … with another woman.
Despite this, Salander and Blomqvist gradually become sexually involved. Salander is a refreshing character in terms of her refusal to be stereotyped or categorized. As she tells Blomqvist at one point, “You choose who you want to be.” Thus, Salander sums up her approach to life, including her bisexual orientation.
The pair of crusaders eventually become involved with the mysterious Vanger family, a wealthy, secretive clan that recruits Blomqvist to resolve the disappearance of one of their members in the 1960’s. While doing so, Blomqvist and Salander uncover a number of possibly-related serial killings inspired by the biblical book of Leviticus.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo weaves a dark, complex tale. While it isn’t as gruesome as the 1995 film Seven, to which it is being compared, it has enough sexual and physical violence in it to likely cause viewers to occasionally avert their eyes.
However, it is an engrossing, extremely well-made movie thanks chiefly to the lead performances, Niels Arden Oplev’s direction, Eric Kress’ cinematography and the adapted screenplay by Rasmus Heisterberg and Nikolaj Arcel. The book’s author was reportedly very concerned about anti-democratic, right-wing extremism as well as with efforts to keep women regarded as inferior to men. Although he was only 50 when he died, the Millennium books are proving to be the embodiment of Larsson’s extensive knowledge and work against neo-Nazism and anti-feminism.
Anti-GLBT sentiment would also be of concern to Larsson. While the author is gone, his greatest creation — Lisbeth Salander — is clearly carrying the torch for an end to all forms of oppression.
UPDATE: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon.com.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.