Dragon Tattoo Leaves a Mark on Genre
A new series of novels has been sweeping the globe – and it’s not a children’s series about wizards or a teenage romance about vampires. The Millenium Trilogy are Swedish mystery novels that are more decidedly for adults. The first of the series, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, features graphic rape, mutilation, and horrific murders this side of the Hannibal Lecter series. It’s also a somewhat complex mystery.
And now it’s been adapted into a film!
The first movie was recently released on DVD the same week as part two, The Girl Who Played with Fire, was released in theaters. The finale, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, hits theaters this fall.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is quite different than anything else we’ve seen before. Here’s a movie where the lead character is a sexually-assaulted, bisexual, Goth/ex-convict/hacker, who takes special interest in a framed journalist’s investigation of a decades’ old murder of a 16 year-old that belonged to a family of Aryan capitalists! Most murder mysteries (especially in the U.S.) involve motives that are romantically passionate, vengeful, or are somehow business-related; they aren’t typically about a specific type of disturbing person having a specifically disturbing modus operandi against specific people. Films like this come around so infrequently that only The Silence of the Lambs and Seven come to mind as anything The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo comes close to resembling.
What also sets this movie apart from the garden variety whodunit is it isn’t centered entirely on the mystery; the two main characters, Mikael and Lisbeth, come first. The film takes the time to introduce these characters and their situations before jumping into their involvement in the mystery. You really get a sense of Mikael Blomkvist (played by Michael Nyqvist), the framed journalist, and Lisbeth Salander (played by Noomi Rapace), the cash-strapped super-researcher. These characters aren’t defined by the mystery or one simple trait (e.g. the lawyer or detective who won’t give up!).
Perhaps due to the name that inspires thoughts of an amphibian, it’s obvious that Lisbeth is the most interesting of the two characters. Unlike a character of this type in a Hollywood flick, we don’t really learn much about Ms. Salander; there are no scenes featuring long monologues of tortured pasts with flashback sequences. Her past is barely more than suggested; like the titled tattoo, a beast bursting through the surface.
But how cool is this? Here is a story where the hero is the best researcher around (she really knows her way around a library and the internet!). And it’s a woman! Who can kick some ass, but also needs someone to save her on an emotional level! The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo gets points for introducing us to one of the most intriguing, intelligent, and coolest (if anti-social) female characters in history. In fact, she is such a rhombus of edgy characteristics and traumatic experiences that I can’t imagine a Hollywood starlet (let alone Hollywood itself) wanting to go in any studio film, including the pending Americanized remake, as far as Noomi Rapace does here.
Dragon Tattoo may be a film with a great main character and electrifying mystery - both of which set it apart from most in its genre – however it isn’t without its blemishes. It does occasionally follow some of the genre’s common beats, which allows anyone who’s familiar with them to be a step ahead of the film. Also, Lisbeth’s partner in crime-solving, Mikael, shows discretion with giving out information in his investigation… until the most crucial moment possible!
That said, the mystery genre has all but died lately, not having anything in recent memory as interesting or distinct as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It is dark, disturbing, complex, and at times graphic. Thankfully, we have such an intriguing character in Salander to help us along. I’m eager to learn more about this enigmatic, tattooed super-sleuth when she plays with fire next – and I won’t wait for some Hollywood carbon copy coattail-rider to fill me in.
Should you see it? Rent
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is now available on Blu-Ray and DVD.