The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (Fincher, 2011)
To begin a not-so-warm evaluation of our American interpretation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, it is important to congratulate Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgârd, and Daniel Craig on fine work. Mara is imagining a character that is ripe for praise and potentially less difficult to portray than immediately evident but she does so with precocious poise.
Elements of Fincher’s visual style are commendable. His sense of space and focus lend a volatile but complex depth to every scene. Indeed, certain moments can only remind us of Nick Ray’s unequaled perception of bodies and their relationship to the frame. Only Ray didn’t blur out his backgrounds with such energetic whimsy. Nonetheless, Fincher frequently locates the viewer, both spatially and temporally, by giving an unusually profound gravity to properties and objects. Anything from a set of keys to a lipstick stain can be imbued with moral and informational subtext. There is a scene where a villain (unbeknownst to the audience at that point) pours out a bottle of wine. It’s so mild, but it’s a genius hint. Watch the scene. It’s a marvelous addition. These images are fleeting though, and this director has yet to reach the point where visual keystones are given sustained energy. Fincher’s relationship with technology is ripe with opportunity for a more nuanced interaction — we can only hope that he grows into that connection. Moviegoers will be familiar with the color palette in Dragon Tattoo. Digital color grading has made for a host of gray-blue films. Here, shades of gray have become the status quo. The film does take place in the winter and in Sweden, but the absence of color becomes tiresome by the end of the first act. Fincher’s team of editors and designers do give two scenarios vibrant yellows — flashbacks and Lisbeth’s ultimate swindle. While the shift in color does serve to locate the viewer like the objects do, it doesn’t compensate for the general lack of energy within the frame. The yellows seem to pull from Harriet’s hair and Lisbeth’s wig, making a dubious evaluation of fantasy and history.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo qualifies as a thriller/mystery, replicating the events of a wildly popular Swedish novel by Steig Larsson. It involves a middle aged journalist who is hired to solve a private murder case. He enlists the help of a troubled but gifted young woman. They develop a certain type of relationship. The location of the film within Sweden inspires a shrug. Why not move it to America and change the names? This would be much preferable to the strange international accents that populate the film. Does British English substitute for all European nationalities now? I love the Swedish language. It’s haunting and broad. But the interjections of signs and specific words during Dragon Tattoo are nothing short of alarming.
The film lacks a healthy center of gravity. The dual protagonists deprive it of urgency, as there is no pivot for 80 minutes, a long time. Novels can accomplish this narrative with diligence and patience, but there isn’t enough time for that here. The material is simply too ambitious for a film — Swedish or American filmmakers. Something has been lost in literary adaptations of the post-studio blockbuster era. Filmmakers seem determined to include as much of the full scope of detail as possible. Literary adaptations were more thorough many decades ago. And this was done by being more concise — having someone around who doesn’t know anything about literature to say “Cut it.” While the characterization is quick and successful, the mystery falls apart because of this lack of gravity. In Plummer’s first appearance, he dictates the terms of the plot in precise detail. Fincher’s talent is beyond spoonfeeding. It’s no longer necessary. The frenetic energy of the book is lost in the forceful explanation of the material.
Dragon Tattoo also lacks the energetic montage sequences that highlight Fincher’s best work (Se7en, The Social Network). His education in the distracted tempi of the music video applies itself only when the imagery is a careful collage, of which he is very capable. Dragon Tattoo plays more like a fractured series, functioning at breakneck speed. Indeed, some transitions of scene and critical information sets are lost in this unnecessary visual haste. Even in the credit sequence, we are greeted with rhythmic editing to an interpretation of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” as arranged by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The song is a fine choice, working in textual and textural contexts. This team of composers have certainly established themselves as bold and stylish inventors. By now, it has come to seem like their hard, information-aesthetic is married to Fincher’s deep grays. But their gnawing pulse could be precisely what a filmmaker like David Lynch or Paul Thomas Anderson could blossom into a revolutionary context.
It seems imprudent to comment on the thematic content of the film, as that would be better suited for literary review. But in a story with so much potential for speaking critically and deeply about the nature of sexual abuse, it is sickening to see triumph created out of a genuine rape, no matter how disturbing or deserving the victim may be. I’m speaking, of course, about the encounter between Lisbeth and her guardian where she get’s more than the upper hand. It speaks volumes about our relationship with film when savage revenge inspires an enthusiastic response from an audience. In fact, Dragon Tattoo seems to miss a bold opportunity to comment on film and voyeurism in the numerous instances of photographed or recorded violence. Were the filmmakers more intentional about this, the project could have revealed much about the very real and very scary human fascination and preoccupation with observing sex and violence. In our lives, theres no mystery to that story. It’s a fact. And we all pay money to see it every day — on our TV’s, computers, and at the movie theater.