The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Welcome to my new series of book vs. movie blog posts! The first book/movie combo I am covering is The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson and the corresponding movie from 2011 produced by Columbia Pictures.

Warning

The discussion of the book and movie are both based on the assumptions that you have seen/read it. If not please be aware that there are spoilers!

Plot

Book:

The plot of the book is intriguing from beginning to end. Henrik Vanger outlines a locked-room mystery to a dejected journalist convicted of libel, Mikael Blomkvist. He is swept up in the detective work of solving the mystery of Harriet Vanger’s supposed murder. While it does seem a bit unbelievable that a man with no prior forensic experience can solve a cold case of 40 years, this was the only section that I found to be hard to swallow. The rest of the plot falls into place without any truly cliché patterns. The many twists and turns lead Blomkvist to a killer, but not Harriet’s killer. Instead he is led to a serial rapist and murderer.

Although this book covers police cases of brutal rape and violence coupled with the ongoing sexual abuse of Lisbeth Salander, I didn’t mind the brutal content because I felt it had a point. At the beginning of every section Stieg Larsson added in statistics of sexual abuse in Sweden. It was these quotes that made me think his point in writing these novels was not to dramatize rape as mere entertainment, but instead to openly address the issues of rape and violence against women in Sweden.

Larsson created a character that does not rely on others to fix her problems but takes them into her own hands, Lisbeth Salander. The state considers her actions to be acts of insanity, even though at the heart of it she is merely defending herself. She provides the rebellious nature to the story that demonstrates how broken the police system is, and why she feels it is better to handle matters on her own.

Movie:

Throughout the movie the plot line follows the book fairly closely. Every scene in the movie evoked the chronological scenes I had in my own imagination from the book. While it seemed like the director tried to incorporate every detail at first glance, there were a few key things missing from the movie that I believe would make it hard to follow without having read the book first.

  1. Henrik Vanger’s explanation of why he is hiring Blomkvist is far too short. The relationship between the report at the beginning of the movie approved by Armansky and the mysterious call to Blomkvist are not explained until midway through the movie when Blomkvist asks to have an assistant for his investigation.
  2. Henrik hardly outlines the locked-room crime scene that the book includes which makes the mystery less striking to the viewer.
  3. The reason for Salander being a ward of the state is unclear until almost the end of the movie.
  4. The gun shot scene doesn’t seem to have a large impact on Blomkvist even though he was struck by a bullet. And the scene was almost not worth having without Blomkvist’s suspicions after narrowing down the list of suspects by who was home.
  5. The ending is a blur. The momentum falls flat in the scene where Blomkvist is sneaking around Martin’s house and then is almost caught, but somehow he ends up trusting Martin anyways. In the book he doesn’t yet know Martin is dangerous and so he has a reason to trust him and follow him down to the basement. In the movie it seems silly that he would even stay in the house.
  6. Harriet. Why did they change the ending? The woman who is supposed to be Anita is now suddenly Harriet. How did that happen? And where is the real Anita? Wouldn’t her own family have realized that it wasn’t Anita that was on the phone when they called? Or realized something weird was up even if they didn’t keep in contact?
  7. And finally the dilemma that Blomkvist and Salander face as they have to tell Henrik the terrible truth about Martin’s double life; where is it? There is no tension here as they reintroduce Harriet back into Henrik’s life.

Character Development

Lisbeth Salander:

Book:

The book series is named after this infamous character that doesn’t rely on anyone to assist her in her life. She doesn’t have a single real friend until Blomkvist. Her personality is spiky and she seems to disappoint those few people that do care about her by not attending to any of their cares or desires. These attributes are what make it hard to relate to her. It is hard to love a character that seems to have no redeeming qualities other than her intelligence. But there are a few shining moments in the book for Lizbeth Salander: she chooses to go to her mother’s funeral instead of working on the case, she keeps Martin’s secret to protect the Vanger family, and she falls for Blomkvist.

Movie:

In the movie Salander is nothing but hard to understand emotionally. Without the inner thoughts of her character, the retaliation to Bjurman after he rapes her seems almost out of the blue (except for the subtle description of her violent nature in her records). The hatred building up inside of her from the moment that he touches her in the first meeting is lost on the audience. This same lack of confliction inside of her is not apparent in the rest of the movie either. From the moment Salander finds out about Martin’s hobby she hates him for what he has done to his victims. In the movie she seems removed from the fact that she is looking at gruesome pictures of rape and murder. Then, without her caring and stable relationships with her sick mom and Palmgren she seems even colder. This would make me think that her relationship with Blomkvist is one of just pure physical needs without an emotional connection. Nowhere is it conveyed that he is the first person she has trusted and let into her life in a long time. From here the ending with Salander standing on the sidewalk looking at Blomkvist and Berger walking away together doesn’t resound with the audience, because her desire to have Blomkvist has not been properly built up.

Mikael Blomkvist

Book:

This man is a well-renowned journalist and partial company owner of the magazine Millennium until he falls prey to Hans-Erik Wennerstrom. His character has a strong sense of justice which is evident in his articles that expose felonies of corporate bigwigs. As well, his allegiance to Erika Berger and his company play a huge role in his decision-making throughout the novel: he struggles to leave Millenium and his girlfriend Berger to head out north to help Henrik Vanger. While meeting with Vanger he does not wish to stay and help try and solve the murder when he feels the great need to get back to rebuilding his career. This inner battle makes Blomkvist’s attempts to write a family chronicle seem halfhearted as the book goes on until he stumbles onto the answer to the riddle.

It is in the answer to the mystery of Harriet’s disappearance that Blomkvist again has his sense of justice put to the test. He is asked by Henrik to not tell anyone of the indiscretions committed by Martin. Then, once more, he is duped by Henrik as he is told that the information on Wennerstrom is not anything he can use in court. It is with this plot twist that Blomkvist is finally pushed into breaking his own code of morals and taps into Wennerstrom’s personal financial accounts as evidence against him. Throughout the book, Blomkvist is portrayed as a bachelor who has a deep allegiance to those around him, and seeks to better the world by exposing corruption.

Movie:

In the movie, Blomkvist’s desire to give up entirely on this mystery mission on his train ride out to Hedestad is not apparent to the audience. Instead it seems nothing is troubling him as he meets with Henrik. He is also portrayed as a family man from the scene with his daughter at Christmas and the fact that she is only one of two people to come and visit him (In the book he has a long series of loves, but hardly knows his daughter). As well, his time on the island seems to be one of pure commitment to the project assigned to him, since he has no relations with Cecilia in the movie. His many women never interact with each other creating no tension between Berger, Cecilia, or Salander. In fact, Blomkvist’s lack of hesitancy in regards to sleeping with Salander and the fact that he has no other women at the same time makes the relationship appear almost like a monogamous until the end of the movie. Blomkvist appears to be a stable journalist throughout the movie and faces no true personal dilemmas other than the pressing problem of Harriet’s disappearance.

Summary

While the book is filled with character’s desires not being met, and their expectations in situations being bent, the movie lacks the friction needed between the characters in order to keep the plot line interesting to the audience.