Hitting back at the men who hate women

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (MA). Running time: 153 minutes. Director:  Niels Arden Oplev. Starring: Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Sven-Bertil Taube

Noomie Rapace as Lisbeth Sallander in The Girl with the Dragon TattooThe Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is based on the first book in late Swedish crime novelist Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy. It is revealing to note that the novel's original title is Män som hatar kvinnorMen Who Hate Women; the film, like the book, is not simply a procedural. Its protagonist, youthful hacker Lisbeth Sallander (Rapace), is capable of great violence. But her violence is a response to that which is and has been inflicted upon her.

Lisbeth's body is marked with the insignia referred to in the film's title. It could be seen equally as a badge of honour and a permanent bruise received after surviving past abuses. But the 'dragon tattoo' is more than simply ink on skin. Metaphorically, it is also a ferocious rhythm that beats within her. For Lisbeth, the best defense is a monstrous offense; attacked by four brutish male aggressors at a train station, this slight, antisocial woman's counter-attack is, by necessity, even more aggressive.

Lisbeth's 'dark passenger' proves to be an important ally. Made a ward of the state due to some mysterious past crime (as it turns out, another, formative incident of violence and counter-violence), Lisbeth finds herself victimised by a horrifically abusive guardian. These scenes are so intense that the shocking revenge Lisbeth metes upon her abuser is comparatively cathartic for the viewer. For Lisbeth, however, it is simply necessary.

She is an intriguing character, damaged but stronger for her appropriation of that damage as a weapon. So central is her arc that the film is not only named for her, it also spends an inordinate amount of time on this kind of gruesome character development. To such an extent that the murder mystery that drives the film's plot seems almost arbitrary.

Lisbeth finds herself investigating a decades-old missing person case, at the side of disgraced investigative journalist turned private sleuth Mikael Blomkvist (Nykvist). Mikael has been enlisted by aging industrialist Henrik Vanger (Taube) to try belatedly to discover what happened to his niece, who as a teenager disappeared without a trace. The Vanger family tree is broad and factious; some of its branches have Nazi connections. Not all family members are pleased about the reopening of this old, cold case.

A prodigious and astute computer hacker, Lisbeth at first assists Mikael anonymously, remotely solving riddles and piecing together clues that she finds among the files on his hard drive. When their paths finally merge she becomes the goth-girl Watson to his world-weary Holmes. Together they uncover a string of unsolved gory, ritualistic murders that are somehow linked to the missing girl. The girl's fate is not the most disturbing secret haunting this family's closet.

A modern-day investigation of an old case presents possibilities for combing old and new technologies in interesting ways. Scenes where Mikael employs new photographic enhancement techniques to examine decades old negatives will appeal to criminal investigation and techno-buffs. That said, viewers who speak fluent Law and Order might regret the dearth of intense interview and interrogation scenes.

Ultimately none of this is as interesting as the film's exploration of its two idiosyncratic gumshoes. The first time we encounter someone for whom Lisbeth has been a willing sexual partner, that person is a woman. In the context of her mistreatment at the hands of some men, Lisbeth's homosexual behaviour may be taken as a sign of generalised distrust of all men.

If that is true, the fact that she later becomes Mikael's lover as well as his sidekick testifies to the trust he has earned simply by not asking anything of her; a significant kindness to one who is accustomed to being used.

While the culmination of their investigation of the Vanger case is almost laughably over the top, it provides an interesting resolution to Lisbeth's character arc. It is a mirror for Lisbeth in which, if she chooses to, she can examine the sickly state of her own humanity. We have already seen her capacity for violence; the film's climax tests her capacity for mercy. Lisbeth is a sympathetic character, but her dragon tattoo never fades.

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. His articles and reviews have been published by Melbourne's The Age, Inside Film, the Brisbane Courier-Mail and The Big Issue. He was Chair of the Interfaith Jury at the 2009 St George Brisbane International Film Festival. 

Topic tags: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Sven-Bertil Taube, Stieg Larsson



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