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January 9, 2013 / Amy Bradney-George

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo: Book, Movie and Pop Culture Opinion

I have an interesting relationship with popular fiction and pop culture in general. On the one hand, there’s a big part of me that doesn’t want to be “the same” as everyone else.

This inner Pop Snob rears its head a lot when books suddenly become even more popular due to movie remakes.

But a bigger part of me is fascinated by what everyone is reading and/or watching. It’s the part of me that likes to experience and explore why certain stories capture our collective imagination.

The conflict between these two parts of me often leads to a certain formulaic response: I deny reading or watching something, often with throwaway criticism or indifference, before bashfully reneging and engaging with it.

But I wasn’t quite as bad with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Although I avoided getting copies of the books with movie pictures on them, I plunged into Stieg Larsson’s first Millennium book just before David Fincher’s movie came out on DVD in Australia.

A lot of people argue any adaptation should stand alone from the source and to some extent I agree, but the idea of adapting something from one medium to another really interests me. Especially if I haven’t got a history with the original text (I still cringe when I think of Frankenstein films, for instance).

In the case of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the story draws you in regardless of the medium.

On one level it is a murder mystery – something the movie draws on a lot more than the book, where several plots intertwine to form the spine of the story that surrounds protagonists Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander.

the_girl_with_the_dragon_tattoo book

On another level it is a story of modern media, investigative journalism and the political and social state of Sweden, which Larsson explores extensively throughout his three books.

But Fincher has honed in on the thriller elements and the emphasis he chose led to a number of thematic differences between the book and the (US) film.

I would say what stood out for me the most in the book was redemption and revenge, while in the film there is still revenge but more of a good-versus-evil feel and a lot more about opposites attracting than redemption.

The latter is particularly true when it comes to Salander (Rooney Mara), who is not your stereotypical hero in a battle between good and bad.

Despite an often cold, defensive exterior, the audience knows that Salander is good and will bring about justice. The intrigue lies in her differences, which is true of the book as well.

But I would still say Fincher plays up this angle much more. From Larsson I got the feeling Blomkvist could have figured things out on his own eventually, while the skills of Salander and Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) are more complementary in the adaptation from Fincher et al.

What struck me the most, though, was how seamlessly the story flowed in the film.

There where times in the book when I felt like things got off track a bit with unnecessary details, who passages and even chapters where I would sometimes pause and flick forward to see how much more I had to read before taking a break (I like to close books only when there are structural breaks, like chapter ends). I never felt that way with the film.

Fincher may have actually found a perfect balance between staying true to the text and true to film form. He didn’t take three-plus hours to translate the story, for one thing, and he didn’t water down the tone or story too much either.

All too often you get films that are so far removed from the source they should really have a different name and simply put “inspired by” (thank you, Bladerunner, though not so much 1984).

On the other side of the coin are films that pay so much homage to the original they end up being lifeless.

But Fincher’s vision of The Girl With A Dragon Tattoo stands out as an example of an adaptation that works. Yes, some things were left out but it’s a different medium and that changes the way the story is told.

In this case, I think both book and film tell a very engaging story using all the resources of their respective mediums. If all film adaptations did as much, maybe the parts of me that snob and covet pop culture could get along more often.


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