Swedish author and journalist Stieg Larrson died in 2004, but his Millenium trilogy was released posthumously to much fanfare and critical acclaim. The first novel in the series, Män som hatar kvinnor (“Men Who Hate Women”), was turned into a Swedish film in 2009, and an English language remake, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, hit U.S. theatres a couple weeks ago. I myself knew nothing about the film going in except that my wife loved the book and the previews looked interesting (though I grew a little sick of them over time). Note that I have not read any of Larrson’s trilogy, nor have I watched the original Swedish film.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a thrilling crime drama about a disgraced Swedish journalist, Mikael Blomkvist (played by Daniel Craig), who is hired by a wealthy businessman to investigate the death of his teenage niece 40 years earlier. He enlists a troubled but talented ward-of-the-state, Lisbeth Salander (played by Rooney Mara) to assist him in his investigation. Twists and turns abound, not all is what it initially seems, and I will spare you any further discussion of the plot, just in case you want to enter the theatre about as ignorant as I was.
This is one of those rare movies in which virtually everything goes right. I was thoroughly engrossed in every way, and I have no major complaints. I loved the understated, polished acting, especially of the Salander character (I worried a bit that, given her dark fetish costuming, she would be over the top, but I was wrong). The script was fine. The cinematography was gorgeous. I have a thing for Scandinavian architecture and design, so I loved the film visually in all sorts of ways. The plot was gripping and suspenseful throughout. The opening credits are a visual and auditory feast (Trent Reznor co-produces a cover version of a classic Zeppelin song!), and I can’t remember the last time I said that about any movie. I suppose, if I have to offer up criticisms, I will give two: (1) I’m not sure I like the fact that Salander beds Blomkvist (it seemed gratuitous); (2) The final portion of the film, devoted to Salander’s and Blomkvist’s take down of corrupt businessman Hans-Erik Wennerstrom, seemed rushed. But these are minor quibbles.
Having said that, in case you haven’t heard already, there’s a rape scene. Or, to be more precise, there’s a RAPE SCENE. It is (too) long, it is somewhat graphic, it was (for me) rather unpleasant to watch. Defenders of its inclusion in the film will no doubt point out that it was necessary to understand the psychology of the female heroine. And they are right. Doesn’t mean a viewer can’t wish for a little less though, does it? Defenders will also claim that because it precedes another, very graphic revenge counter-scene — that is quite satisfying in its payback — this makes the first scene (a) necessary; and (b) less unpleasant in the context of the whole. Right again on both counts. Some will contexualize Larsson’s literary focus on sexual violence against women by pointing out that it arises out of his own guilt at failing to stop a gang rape when he was a teenager, thereby making its inclusion in the book (and thus, film) easier to understand. Right again. Still, though. Know what you’re getting into before you watch this flick.
Part of what makes rape scenes unpleasant (though by no means the only thing) is my sneaking suspicion that others aren’t finding them unpleasant. I still vividly remember reading Roger Ebert’s review of I Spit on Your Grave many years ago, in which he describes the sociopathic, misogynistic outbursts of a fellow moviegoer, during and after each of that film’s repeated rape scenes. Ebert was mortified and disturbed. And who can blame him? I thankfully haven’t experienced anything like this at the movies myself, but I can still vicariously live through Roger.
Also, I found myself comparing this scene to a similar one in The Last House on the Left. This one wasn’t quite as disturing as that one. Not entirely sure why, since the former similarly led to some outlandish, satisfying payback later on, but I’ll spare you any further analysis. (I can’t believe I’m even typing this sentence, or that I’m actually evaluating the relative merits of these things).
Anyway, be aware of the unpleasantness I’ve just mentioned, but also know that if you can stomach it, you will have an enjoyable time. I heartily recommend this fantastic film.