Spoiler Warning

Always assume Spoilers and possible profanity in context. These are often adult themed movies.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

The movie opens with an elderly man opening a package, containing a wreath and a picture of a young girl. The package starts him sobbing. This sets up the movie perfectly as everyone in it is working on solving the past. This is a Swedish Film, so subtitles are at work. It should also be mentioned that while it's based on the novel The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson, the original name of the movie (and book) was "Men Who Hate Women"
We are next introduced to Mikael Blomkvist, (Michael Nyqvist) the publisher of Millenium magazine who has just been found guilty of libel against businessman Hans-Erik Wennerstrom. Blomkvist accused Wennerstrom of gun running and other felonies. The verdict is controversial, as Blomkvist has a reputation for journalistic fearlessness and integrity among the public, yet he is sentenced to three months in prison and a fine paid to Wennerstrom.

Outside the courthouse, reporters ask Blomkvist, "What's it like to be found guilty." Blokvist reveals his stoicism and sense of humor by answering, "Fantastic."
His employees at Millenium, talk with him afterwards on Christmas night, about appealing the verdict. Blomkvist tells them, he's not appealing because he wants it to be over for the sake of the magazine. One of them suggests that he take a leave until the furor is over and Blomkvist agrees. He leaves to be followed by Erika, his lover (who is married). He explains that he hasn't been able to write and that he knows he was set up. They are clearly very familiar to each other and very close to embracing. They don't know that someone is taking pictures of their moment from just out of sight.

We are then introduced to Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) a young woman dressed entirely in black in her hotel room downloading pictures of Blomkvist. The next morning Lisbeth is called into a meeting at the research firm she works for. Apparently the client, Dirche Frode, paying for her research work on Blomkvist is very important to the firm. Surprised by looking through her research and finding Blomkvist's text messages, emails, and bank statements, he asks her how she got these things. Lisbeth simply answers, "You order the goods, and I deliver them." He then asks Lisbeth for her opinion on Blomkvist and she tells him it's in the report. The client asks if Blomkvist has secrets, and how he'll be affected financially by the Millenium situation. Lisbeth just refers him to the report. He pushes for her personal opinion, and she finally adds that she thinks Blomkvist was set up and didn't use fake evidence in the Wennerstrom case.
Blomkvist spends some time with his sister's family, talking about the verdict and his coming prison time, when Dirche Frode (who'd just hired Lisbeth to research Blomkvist) calls to tell him about someone who wants to hire him. Blomkvist tells him to call Millenium after New Year's, but he's insistent. He says the client is Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) of The Vanger Group, a very powerful and well known company. Blomkvist replies that it's Christmas and Frode assures him he'll find it interesting. Frode drives him to an estate on a secluded island where Henrik lives with only his housekeeper, although once he had a large family there.

Henrik is the old man from the beginning, and he shows Blomkvist the picture, explaing that it's a picture of his brother Gottfried's daughter, Harriet Vanger. He tells Blomkvist that he's met her. Blomkvist's father worked for the Vanger's many years ago and while his father worked, his mother used to bring him to the Vanger's for visits. He produces a picture of Blomkvist as a little boy with his mother and Harriet smiling next to them.Harriet used to watch him while his mother visited. Henrik points out the water where they used to play. He soon remembers. Henrik never had children and thought of Harriet as a daughter and goes on to explain that he believes she was killed. Producing a photo of his large family at a board meeting, he explains his distaste for them all, believing that one of them killed her. When Blomkvist asks how she murdered, Henrik explains that she disappeared and no one knows. Henrik fills Blomkvist in on details of the day of her disappearance thoroughly, as he's examined it for thirty years.

Lisbeth meanwhile gets a call from her probation officer informing her that she has a new guardian as her last one had a stroke. She has to meet with him and he quickly makes some changes including taking control of her finances. She claims that her work for Milton Securities is making coffee and photocopies. He explains that her pay will now have to go into his account and she'll have to get her money from him other than a small amount every month. He then asks her personal questions about her nose ring, boyfriend's and sexual activity. When she won't answer he threatens to write down that she's uncooperative. He then persists in asking sexual questions like How many men she has had sex with. She responds, "2, ...200,...2,000,... 200,000." He continues asking inappropriate questions and she walks out.

Blomkvist and Henrik continue going over the disappearance. Henrik explains that Harriet used to give him a framed flower every year for his birthday and shows him a room in the attic full of these flowers, as he continued to get them every year from all over the world. Henrik believes that her killer sends them, believing his family is that cruel. Harriet's murder would give this person more power in the Vanger Group and knowing she was his favorite, sending flowers would be a perfect way to rub the wound and crush Henrik.

Henrik tells Blomkvist that he's familiar with his career and knows he's a great reporter. He says he doesn't expect him to solve the case, but at least to try in the six months before his prison sentence, for which he'll pay him very well. Back at the Millenium office, Blomkvist is confronted by Erika about his resignation. She's angry that he didn't discuss it with her. He maintains that only he could decide that. She is also upset that he'll be staying with Henrik, which means she won't see him. She leaves upset.

Although her job is finished, Lisbeth continues looking at her research on Blomkvist, and from her home computer connects to his laptop, taking full control of it but finding no new activity. She leaves and is brutally attacked by some random thugs for bumping into one of them accidentally. She attacks them back as brutally, cutting one of them and scaring them off with a broken bottle she clearly has no issue with using. In the attack her laptop was damaged and she's lucky to save the hard drive.

Blomkvist gets setlled at Vanger's estate, taking quarters away from the main house. Henrik provides him with boxes of materials related to Harriet's case. Blomkvist starts researching on his laptop computer, finding lots of unpleasant information on the Vangers. Henrik mentions Harald, who he despises, but has his own house on the estate. Blomkvist mentions that Henrik's brothers, Richard and Harald Vanger were both part of a Nazi group and Gottfried was a member of the Hitler Youth, all three becoming Nazis. Of the three, only Harald is alive. Blomkvist then meets Martin Vanger, Harriet's brother who is in charge of the Vanger group after Henrik. Henrik explains that his brother Gottfried (Harriet and Martin's father) was a miserable alcoholic, and their mother, Isabella, was the worst mother imaginable. That's why he took Martin and Harriet under his wing. Blomkvist asks Henrik who he suspects, to which he answers, "nobody and everybody, that's where you come in." Blomkvist posts pictures of all the Vangers on a wall deciding where to start. He starts poking around the estate and runs into Cecilia Vanger.

Prompted by Harriet's diary, Blomkvist checks out Gottried's cottage on the estate.He finds her Bible there and runs into Cecilia Vanger who tells him that Harriet spent a lot of time there, which was odd, as her father Gottfried died there, falling into the lake while drunk to be found dead the next morning the year before Harriet disappeared. He tells Cecilia that he thought she lived far away and Cecilia replies "I had to come home to hide Harriet's body." Back at his cottage, he discovers a code in Harriet's diary. He then questions the Morrell, the detective who was in charge of the case. Morell tells him there's nothing to find. He says Blomkvist that Harriet was his first case and he's thought about it every day since, only lettign it go now because he's about to retire. He urges Blomkvist to give it up.

Lisbeth meanwhile starts looking through the information on Blomkvist's computer. This is very difficult for her as she is using her friend's computer since her laptop was damaged. Frustrated, she goes to see her guardian to get money for a new computer. He insists that he can't just give her the money (although it is her own money) He closes the blinds, slaps her and tells her that if she gives him trouble he'll see to it that she spends life behind bars. He coerces her to give him oral sex to get her money, and afterwards only gives her half of what she asked for. She lets it go for the moment, not wanting to get herself in trouble.

Blomkvist finds another photograph from the day of the accident, which he thinks indicates more about the killer.Henrik is excited as it's their first new information in thirty years. Blomkvist, over coffee with Cecilia and Martin Vanger, tells them he hasn't found anything.They ask about the Wennerstrom case and he explains that he had all kinds of sources, until he wrote his story and they all disappeared and the documents they provided turned out to be forged. Cecilia walks him to his quarters and makes an advance, which he turns down, she assumes because of his case.

Lisbeth goes back to her guardian for money and tells him "I won't suck your dick every time I need money." He attacks her, cuffing her to the bed and raping her. She gets home badly hurt and we learn that she had videotaped the whole incident.

Blomkvist finds more information in the photographs, leading him to talk to a woman who had honeymooned on the island with her husband and taken snapshots. As he goes over them, Lisbeth, goes to meet her guardian again. This time she tases, strips and restrains him. She then rapes him with an object and kicks him. She shows him the video and makes him watch it before returning and telling him that they'll have a new arrangement giving her control of her finances. She also tells him to never contact her again or the tape goes to press and police. She then tattoos "I'm a Sadist Pig and Rapist"on his chest before going out to buy her new computer equipment. She goes back to Blomkvist's files and realizes that the codes are biblical references. She then e-mails the information to Blomkvist using the name Wasp.

One passage refers to Leviticus, and deals with bestiality, requiring both woman and animal to be put to death. Another is an instruction to put a medium to death, all are sacrifices. He runs to tell Henrik who has collapsed due to a heart attack. Frode is at the hospital and tells Blomkvist he should continue his search. He tells Frode that he got an e-mail containing his own files. Frode remembers Lisbeth's research and Blomkist is soon at Lisbeth's door. She wakes up next to a girlfriend to hear Blomkvist pounding on the door. She tries to close it but relents when he mentions his proof of her hacking his computer. He asks Lisbeth to help him. She declines but he suggests that her sending a traceable e-mail, despite knowing better as a professional hacker, might indicate she wants to be involved. He brings Lisbeth back to the estate and she starts picking everything apart. Using Harriet's code they find another unsolved murder nearby from the same time period. They get the details from a resident who confirms that the woman was killed as well as some animals nearby, tying it in to the Bible verse mentioned by Harriet.

Blomkvist is surprised at Lisbeth's proficiency, realising that she has perhaps a photographic memory. Some of Lisbeth's past is revealed while she sleeps in the car with Blomkvist driving. She dreams of herself as a little girl lighting a match and starting a large fire, then staring into it. He tries to wake her and she, startled almost attacks him. He clearly isn't sure what he's dealing with as she remains angry although insisting that she's okay. They sleep in a hotel in separate rooms, leaving for the estate the next morning. On the way back, they connect unsolved murders to each of Harriet's code entries.

Returning, Lisbeth realizes that someone has been in their room by picking up almost imperceptible differences in the pictures and objects around the room.Blomkvist, astounded that she realized this, asks if she has a photographic memory. This upsets her, although he doesn't know why, not considering that her memory is not always a gift, since her memories are traumatic. He makes a point of telling her he thinks it's wonderful. He leaves her to herself and goes to bed and is surprised when she wakes him and initiates sex. She keeps control and leaves promptly after her own orgasm. Blomkvist is a little surprised, perhaps expecting her to stay in bed with him.

At breakfast, neither acknowledges the incident, although Blomkvist can't supress a little smile.He tells her he's going to update Henrik, and she declines to go as she hates hospitals.Henrik suggests that he contact Morrell, the police detective. Morrell points out that the man who committed the murders must be very old which reduces the suspect list. The Vanger's call Blomkvist in for a meeting, confronting him with a headline in the paper about "his young girlfriend" They claim that this makes the Vanger Group look bad and encourage him to give up his work. Frode reminds them that he has a contract and can't quit while Henrik is alive. Blomkvist recognizes a necklace that Cecilia's wearing from an old memory and confronts her. Cecilia claims it was her sister Anita's (Harriet's best friend) necklace.

This points out to Lisbeth that Harriet and Anita looked a lot alike and one of their pictures turns out to be Anita, when they though it was Harriet which means she wasn't necessarily at the house on the day of her disappearance as Henrik thought. Blomkvist is soon shot at while running through the woods. When Blomkvist suggests calling the police, Lisbeth threatens to leave and he changes his mind. He talks to Morell, who suggests he leave, which Blomkvist again refuses to do. Lisbeth meanwhile has installed hidden cameras all around the cottage.

That night Blomkvist goes to bed in Lisbeth's bed and she questions him about it.
Lisbeth: What are you doing?
Blomkvist: Sorry?
Lisbeth: Go to sleep in your own bed
Blomkvist:I want to be close to you.
Lisbeth: (thinking for a moment) Fine. But I want to sleep.
After a moment he starts talking to her.
Blomkvist: What has happened to you? How did you turn out this way? You know everything about me. I don't know shit about you. Not a damn thing.
Lisbeth: That's the way it is.

Morrell knocks at the door in the morning, waking them with news that he's found the last murder. It turns out the woman was Gottfried Vanger's secretary. Since Gottfried died too before the disappearance, they don't suspect him, but Morrell suggests that she knew other members of the family. They realize that the victims were also all Jewish, which makes sense with the Nazi connections in the Vanger familt. They conclude that Harriet was killed for discovering the pattern. As Harald is the last surviving Nazi, they start looking at him. Blomkvist breaks into Harald's place at night while Lisbeth runs to the library to look for financial records linking Harald to the murder locations. Harald surprises Blomkvist in the dark with a shotgun. Martin shows up just in time to defuse the situation and brings Blomkvist back to his place.

Lisbeth discovers that Gottfried was in the murder locations, not Harald as well as a disturbing photograph. Blomkvist tells Martin what they've discovered as well as the fact that Lisbeth is looking through the records. Martin say he'll call the police and leaves the room. He then thinks to ask Martin why he was at Harad's, but finds Martin has stuck him in the neck with a sedative and is soon unconscious.Martin reveals that he's taken over his father's work, and that his father taught him how to strangle a girl. Lisbeth races back from the library. She spots Martin on her camera.

Martin details his depravities and toys with Blomkvist who is still sedated. He starts a winch designed to hang him while Lisbeth hopes to find them in time to save Blomkvist. She arrives at the last moment beating Martin with a golf club and freeing Blomkvist while Martin escapes. Lisbeth chases his car and Martin panicks losing control of his vehicle and tumbling down an embankment. He ends up trapped in the car upside down with fuel dripping all over. He begs Lisbeth for help and as as part of the car catches fire, we see more of the childhood memory she had dreamt earlier. This time we see the little girl running out of her house with a canister full of some accelerant, which she douses her father with and throws a match, watching sternly as he burns without looking away. Martin's car burns up while she watches and she runs back to meet Blomkvist, who has found pictures of Martin's murders. Upset when she hears police sirens, she informs Blomkvist that Martin died in a car accident and they don't know anything.

Blomkvist later asks for details on Martin's death. She admits she could have saved him, but let him burn. Having difficulty accepting the idea, as well as in pain from his injuries, He lies down and Lisbeth joins him.
He tells her that he wouldn't have done it, but understands why she did and ultimately he's just glad she's there. This moves her to say thank you and she displays tenderness for the first time.

Blomkvist informs Henrik, now out of the hospital, that Martin didn't kill Harriet. When he returns to the cottage he finds Lisbeth gone with a note on the last details of the mystery which he follows up.

Lisbeth visits a mental hospital to see her mother who she's afraid won't recognize her. She soon does though and they have a conversation about Lisbeth's father which reveals that he was abusing Lisbeth's mother and not Lisbeth.

Blomkvist concludes his business with Henrik, filling in all the remaining details. He then turns himself in to serve his sentence. He's told he has a visitor, and it turns out to be Lisbeth with a bag full of papers for him. "Reading material" she tells him, which turns out to be evidence against Wennerstrom which he uses to accuse him again in Millenium. Now free, he sees a news report that Wennerstrom committed suicide and a large amount of his money was wired to an offshore bank. An unidentified woman was caught on a surveillance camera at Wennerstrom's place, who Blomkvist recognizes as a disguised Lisbeth. Blomkvist smiles.

Be advised that this movie is a good 2.5 hours long, and most of that is devoted to characterization. That being said, if solid and complex character work grabs you, you'll be very pleased with this. The thing that I found most remarkable was that it took the traditional guy/girl partnership and spun it on it's ear. Lisbeth's character refuses to be a victim in any way. While she certainly suffers a great deal, she doesn't stop moving forward. She even anticipates the possibility of her own rape and plans in such a way that she gets revenge and clears an obstacle from her life. In the Lisbeth/Blomkvist pairing, Lisbeth is the ultra competent one, making the discoveries and saving the day.

While Blomkvist is capable in his own right, he is the more emotional one of the two, due to Lisbeth's extreme need for distance. He spends a great deal of time being amazed by her skill, and while no slouch himself is always a few steps behind her. While they come from morally very different places, Blomkvist struggles to understand her and accepts that those differences are legitimate. He desires to be close to her, while she has no frame of reference for that, falling back to the more typically male stance, "don't fall in love." She even uses him for sex and promptly gets out of bed when she's finished. She can fight like a man, sending some punks who attack her running to avoid getting hurt.  Still Blomkvist clearly means something to her and the few displays of tenderness are remarkable given the character of Lisbeth at the start of the film.

Lisbeth is alluring to him not in a cheescake induced physical way, but more as an emotional mystery which he wants to understand. While she doesn't hide her femininity, she doesn't accentuate it either, perhaps living more in her mind than her physicality. He finds her beautiful in the most idealized of ways, his fascination centered on how little he knows. Lisbeth only wants to be understood, but is smart enough to know that this is very unlikely if even possible, given her extraordinary mind. She gets some gratification from an effort being made, as even that appears foreign to her. Noomi Rapace gives a flawless portrayal, making Lisbeth a fascinating enigma. It's also notable that no matter how competent Lisbeth and Blomkvist are, they are both subject to the whims of an oppressive system, only stepping outside their constraints at great cost to themselves.

As far as the film itself is concerned, Niels Arden Oplev, keeps things very dark and gritty. He doesn't conceal much, leaving every line in his character's faces evident. His world is not romanticized in the least, whether presenting an ugly naked man being forcibly tattooed, or Blomkvist throwing up in shock from a narrowly missed shotgun blast. Every flaw is celebrated and as a result the characters feel more broken and fallible. This is a mystery that serves as a reason to develop it's characters and establish a mood. Presumably it's the first part of a trilogy and an upcoming American remake directed by David Fincher. It's perfectly satisfying as a stand alone piece though, and I only hope that the next chapters are as compelling as this one.


Jeff Gomez said...

Excellent synopsis and thoughtful appraisal, Brent. Just what I was hoping for from you. The film depicts a remarkable relationship and Fincher has much to live up to.

I was wondering from your perspective: per the original title you mentioned, some critics have charged that the film (and book trilogy) are misogynist, and that the author had some dark issues with women. They certainly take their share of punishment on all counts, but I'm not so sure. What do you think?

Also, it pays to mention the film's throbbing score. The music truly contributes to an almost overwhelming sense of foreboding and forward propulsion. Nolan makes similar use of music for "Inception" but it becomes a bit too bombastic for me, as opposed to "Dragon".

Keep up the great work, and pretty please can you do "Inception"? It certainly owes much to the crime genre and I think many of us can certainly use a clear synopsis of it! Ha!


INDBrent said...

Thanks for taking the time out Jeff, especially while you're travelling. It's cool to hear your thoughts as I was really thrilled to discover this one and looking forward to discussing it!

Re: misogyny (keeping in mind that I haven't read the book) I would heartly disagree. I doubt anyone will claim that some men in power don't use that power in a sexually predatory way. Clearly this happens in quite a few instances in this film, but it never happens in a way that the director condones.

To report something that happens is not to say you approve. Personally I think that the way Lisbeth refuses to be controlled by this behavior is a remarkable step for empowered women leads.

Some may argue that Lisbeth agreeing to oral sex to get her own money represents that view, but you're dealing with a realist who has been in this oppressive system for a long time, and is at that moment left with little choice, and has by implication, probably endured worse. She's clearly disgusted, but sees little choice, which from that character in that setting is not unbelievable. She knows the type of man her "guardian" is. He's already revealed his character at that point. This strikes me as a practical decision, which she probably knows is unavoidable (as we see later) Given time she finds her way out of it, and doesn't treat her abuser gently.

Lisbeth's "partner" relationship here illustrates that she remains in control of her own sexuality, both by their encounter, and never being reduced to the mushy sidekick role, but instead "saving the day" herself.

There is also the fact that Lisbeth's physicality is almost an afterthought. Her mind is the star here, and what fascinates Blomkvist. And yet, we don't make Lisbeth asexual, as a different storyteller might do, we simply see her sexuality as a smaller component of her character than her mind and her emotions.

The film recognizes that much misogyny exists in this world, but I don't see a fault in that. There's plenty of misogyny in the real world too. Lisbeth will not be defined by it however.Sexual assault is as real as any physical assault, it doesn't strike me as a fault to admit that.

And yes, the score is fantastic, used perfectly to augment the film! It's captivating! I can't wait to get ahold of the remaining two Swedish films. Noomi Rapace is really something, and this is perhaps a precedent setting performance for strong women roles.

Fincher does have big shoes to fill, and I'm eager to see how he does. Of course, if I had to pick a director to make the attempt, he'd be right up there in my list.

While not normally a fan of quick remakes, I think that a lot of good could come of this one as I'm sure the dislike of subtitles would otherwise deter a lot of A,erican viewers. And these are important roles to share!

I'll most definitely be doing Inception soon. I may just do all of Nolan's stuff as he seems to live in the world of the anti-hero (yes, including Batman)

Thanks again Jeff, for the great feedback!

INDBrent said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
POB said...

Just watched the movie and it was amazing from the script to the directing. I just hope that Fincher doesn't fuck up the American version as is the case with most foreign flicks that are remade by Americans.
Case in point: "The Vanishing" was a ::HORRIBLE:: remake of the Dutch film, "Spoorloos."

INDBrent said...

Cool Peyton! It is a terrific film. I share your hesitancy to see the remake, but i'm guardedly optimistic. While I'd prefer that more people just watch the original, there's no question that "Americanizing" it will give it a much larger audience.
"The Vanishing" is a perfect example as cautionary tale, both the remake and the original had the same director! and yes I agree the "Americanized" version doesn't come anywhere near the original.

BRENT said...

I have read all three books and can state uncategorically that the films are not misogynist.
Stieg Larsson was himself a journalist. In the start of GWTDT he shows facts and figures of the number of women who are raped in Sweden each year. And right throughout the book at the head of each chapter there are other facts about male abuse on Swedish women. It is harrowing reading.
The second book has a sub-plot on a couple writing about the illegal sex slave trade of Russian women into Sweden.
So he is highlighting the problems not glamorising or condoning them.
GWTDT is the most brutal of the three books. I think it is the best of them, and feel the same way about the film. The second book is really an expansion of Salander as a character that ties into the third and better book. Some say the second book was unneccessary but I disagree.
Each movie should be seen as a whole rather than as stand alone films. It is a trilogy after all.
I like the three as stories. they are very original and I am strongly against them being re-made into english. I really don't see the point and am finding alot of opposition from amny others I talk too.
Sorry! Rambled on enough! Just thought I'd clarify the misconception this film could give as to Larsson's state of mind to women.

INDBrent said...

Thanks for the comment Brent! Don't worry about rambling, I enjoy discussion about these films! As far as the misogyny, I think that unfortunately, whether we like it or not, these things do happen to women. As you mention, the books were written with very real figures in mind which support this. Violence or mistreatment is not condoned, quite the opposite, and while Blomkvist is certainly an intesresting character, it's Salander's show. She is one of the most empowered female characters that I can think of, despite her abuse. I agree that the remakes, should not be necessary. The Swedish films are terrific. I've seen all three and read all three books, and while they are different creatures, they work very well together. I think the unfortunate truth is however, that a large segment of movie goers is still resistant to anything with sub titles. I console myself with this fact, as at least more people will be exposed to the story.

BRENT said...

Bingo!!..I've been writng the same thing in my blog. I just don't get people who won't read sub-titles.

Anonymous said...

hi, new to the site, thanks.