Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (book & movie)

Title: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Author: Stieg Larsson
Translator: Reg Keeland
Publisher: Vintage Crime, 2009
Originally published by Norstedt, 2005

I’d been meaning to get to this book for sometime, but it wasn’t until I found out that the Gene Siskel Film Center would have a special one day showing of the Swedish movie on March 6th that I got some fire under my butt to start reading.  I’m one of those people who doesn’t like to see a movie based on a book until after I’ve read the book.  Alas, read as I would between classes, studying, and work, I still had about 25 pages left to the book when sat down in the movie theater. 

First the book:  As popular as the book has been, I knew almost nothing about it other than one of the main characters was a tough, tattooed computer whiz.  I was both pleasantly surprised and awfully disturbed by the book.

I was surprised by how much I ended up liking both Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist.  How can you not like a sleuth who settles into a new town by getting a library card?  I liked Blomkvist from that moment on.  Oddly, however, the only unrealistic thing about him for me was that he only reads novels by women mystery writers.  How realistic is that?  I’ve been a bookseller for ten years and can’t recall meeting a man who only reads women mystery writers.  I have met men who read mainly male mystery writers and women who read only women mystery writers (mainly cozy fans), but for a man to read mysteries written exclusively by women struck me as odd and a little too heavy handed to make the point that Blomkvist is “sensitive” to women.  Or maybe its a Swedish thing.  Or maybe in my mad dash to finish the book before seeing the movie I don’t recall reference to male mystery writers.

What disturbed me is the brutal violence against women.  Larsson doesn’t go into gruesome detail describing the murders, but the briefest description was more than enough for me.  Indeed, sometimes less is more.   Larsson’s original title is Men who Hate Woman (“Män som hatar kvinnor“).  He frames the violence against by including a statistic of violence against women on the section break of each part:

  •  Part 1: Incentive.  Eighteen percent of the women in Sweden have at one time been threatened by a man.
  • Part 2: Consequence Analysis.  Forty-six percent of the women in Sweden have been subjected to violence by a man.
  • Part 3:  Mergers. Thirteen percent of the women in Sweden have been subjected to aggravated sexual assault outside of a sexual relationship.
  • Part 4:  Hostile Takeover.  Ninety-two percent of women in Sweden who have been subjected to sexual assault have not reported the most recent violence incident to the police.

I won’t go into any details about the violence in an effort to avoid spoilers.  Other major themes in the book include the moral turpitude of big business, the lack of investigative journalism looking into big business & financial dealings, mistrust of the legal system, the Swedish strain of Nazism, and familial dysfunction.

Now the Movie: I really enjoyed the movie.  I saw it in Swedish with English subtitles.  I mainly wanted to enjoy the scenery, architecture, and whatever atmosphere I could soak up, and assumed I’d miss out on some of the dialog because subtitles are sometimes hard for me to follow.  However, the subtitles were closer to mid-screen rather than all the way at the bottom of the screen so I was able to comfortably read them without sacrificing my visual enjoyment of the film.

Michael Nyqvist as Bloomkvist and Noomi Rapace as Salander were absolutely perfect fits with how I imagined them while reading the book.  Rapace plays Salander superbly.  She’s both electrifying and painful to watch (and I mean painful in a good way in that she captures the tortured nature of Salander).  Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg did a solid job on the screenplay.  As those of you who read the book know, the novel’s plot is fairly complex and although I wasn’t thrilled with some of the sacrifices/changes that they had to make for time, the movie does seem to follow the spirit of the book. 

At one point while watching the film my lungs started to hurt in sympathy due to Salander’s chain-smoking. 

The weakest link in the movie for me was the character of Erika Berger played by Lena Endre.  Berger is Blomkvist’s long-time lover and business partner/boss who is a sophisticated, talented editor in the book, but comes across as a bit too high strung, needy, and maniacal looking in the movie.

Rumor has it that there’s a Hollywood version of the book or the trilogy of books under negotiation.  It’ll be interesting to see how Hollywood handles some of the more graphic scenes such as those between Salander and Bjurman.  They’ll have a high bar to hit following the original.

I’m looking forward to reading Larsson’s second book of the trilogy, The Girl Who Played with Fire, over spring break later this month.  It’s coming out in paperback on March 23, 2010.

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