The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo

Starring: Noomi Rapace, Mikael Nyqvist, and Sven-Bertil Taube. Directed by Niels Arden Opleve. Rated 
MA 15+ (Strong sexual violence, coarse language and sex scene). 153 min.

This sub-titled film, the title of which translates from its Swedish version, “Men Who Hate Women”, brings the first of the late Stieg Larsson’s famous “Millennium Trilogy” to the screen. It is a hard task to capture Larsson’s phenomenally popular novel, which has been read by over 10 million people in 25 countries. The film is a taut, nerve-wracking, on the edge-of-your-seat thriller, which is directed with dexterity, brilliance, and clinical control. 

An investigative journalist, Mikael Blomkvist (Mikael Nyqvist), who works for a magazine called “Millennium”, is accused of libelling a Swedish Industrialist and is sentenced for the alleged defamation. Before he commences his prison term, he is approached by Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube), who asks him to solve the disappearance, 40 years before, of his great-niece, who was only 16 at the time. He suspects she was murdered and wants Blomkvist to investigate. Henrik is convinced that the clue to what happened to her lies somewhere within his own family dynasty. Blomkvist agrees, and he is helped by a punk teenager, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), who has been a victim of authority all of her life and has a violent history. She has been abused by her father and spends her life fighting back against other abusers. She also happens to be an expert with computers, and she can hack into computers anywhere. With the aid of her special skills, Blomquist works with her to solve the case. Lisbeth, described as emerging “from a week-long orgy with a gang of hard rockers”, knows that Blomkvist is innocent of the charges brought against him, and forms an unusual love relationship with him.

The journey this movie takes you on is a fascinating ride into darkness. The Vanger family hides sadistic, serial killing in its history and it will do anything to prevent that fact, and other evils, becoming known. The movie begins darkly, reflecting the tone of Larsson’s novel, and the mood gets even darker and more sinister as the film progresses.  You don’t need to read any of Larsson’s novels to recognise that this film is vividly compelling in its own right. The film is long, but develops its story in a completely absorbing way. It captures the isolation of its characters wonderfully well, with the help of superb cinematography by Eric Kress and Jens Fischer. Hardly ever, has Sweden’s countryside looked more coldly uninviting.

There are rape scenes in this movie that are difficult to endure, earning entirely the film’s restricted, mature classification. Rape on film can be viewed in many ways - from the victim’s point of view, from the perspective of the attacker, as vengeance for past assault, as a vicious event that can be analysed in detail with seeming objectivity, or by communicating male fantasy about enjoyment of rape and killing yet to be committed. This movie depicts all five. The last category makes for thoroughly objectionable viewing, and the movie unfortunately dips into it. It is a bold director who chooses to be totally uncompromising in matters of sexual assault and Niels, Arden Opleve directs in just this way to deliver a totally distinctive piece of cinema. Laying the violence of the movie aside, and the controversial nature of its strong sex scenes (which includes both heterosexual male, and female rape), the film attempts to offer serious comment on the nature of violence and abuse in Swedish Society. Lisbeth has been a victim of that violence, and her disturbed pursuit of her own privacy cloaks extreme vulnerability. 

This is an atmospheric, conspiratorial thriller that brings the sweep of Larsoon’s novel brilliantly to the screen. Sexual abuse, killing, sadism, and total distrust of authority are captured in compelling performances, especially that of Noomi Rapace as the complex and neurotic Lisbeth. No one could be more of a contrast to Agatha Christie’s gentle Miss Marple, than Lisbeth Salander, who defiantly wears the dragon tattoo. But viewers should be wary of the film’s graphic violence, its strong depiction of sadism and sexual assault, and the almost relentless display of disfigured bodies.

This film is emotionally-wrenching viewing. Opleve insisted on total creative control of the movie. He got it, and it shows, and he has delivered quality cinema at a price.

Yellow Bird Films (Danish Film Institute)   Out March 25th. 2010

Peter W Sheehan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.   


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