Sunday, June 20, 2010
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Niels Arden Oplev, 2009)
Niels Arden Oplev's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (from the novel by Stieg Larsson) isn't bad; if anything, it's the best example I've seen recently of the by-now ridiculous serial-killer genre.
I like the strong feminist context. I like it that Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) is the real protagonist, both confronting and chasing after the killer, and that journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is mostly a Boy Friday, providing access and information (and the occasional late-night boinking, with Lisbeth firmly on top), by film's end acting as Dude in Distress for Lisbeth to rescue.
I like the way Oplev instills a chilly mood to the film--the ever-pervasive sense of cold; the dark mood, even in broad daylight (Thanks to Jens Fischer and Eric Kress); the ominous music (Jacob Groth).
As for the rape scenes--understand that Nils Bjurman (Peter Andersson) is basically a foreshadowing of the evil yet to come, but the actual assaults are so extended and so intensely staged and acted they tend to upend everything that follows. There could be a rational for this--to suggest how frightening a character could be, have him (or her) do something frightening right off; then you can have the audience flinch at the sight of him for the rest of the picture. But Bjurman is not the killer, and his story only has a thematic and not direct relationship with the main plotline; we basically have a subplot that's taken over the picture, in terms of tone and impact.
To be fair (skip the next three paragraphs if you plan to see the picture) when you do meet the killer, he's chillingly matter-of-fact. Bjurman is all sweaty eagerness; the actual killer has the calm and confidence of a practiced veteran (that little business about the glass of water is brilliant). More, he sounds and looks reasonable; you have to think his words through to realize he's a sociopath, and (most disturbing of all) some of the things he says reflects what some politicians, in the United States and in Europe, are saying nowadays.
Larsson is an outspoken liberal; he writes (or wrote--the manuscripts were submitted shortly before his death at the age of 44) on the side of the angels, and there's a righteous liberal fury burning away at the heart of his story. But he tends to go soft sometimes; you can tell from the climactic chase between Lisbeth and the killer that he wants to absolve her from any irredeemable wrongdoing, that he's basically preparing her for the sequels to come (there are two more books, in fact).
And Larsson tends to paint with a broad brush. If we are to believe him, every powerful man is a potential if not actual rapist and possible serial killer; of the family of Vangers, three are Nazi sympathizers (funny the women are briefly but never seriously considered suspects--the novel's title actually translates as "Man Who Hates Women"). Ultimate evil is a soundproofed basement, and a man rich enough and intelligent enough to indulge his hobbies for decades without giving himself away.
I don't quite subscribe to that; Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer points to a more persuasive villain, one that can't be as easily attacked by a golf club or a laptop computer, though perhaps at best you can uncover an operation or two--try, anyway. Oplev does well with what he's got but in my book Polanski does more, with less. No need for rapes or soundproofed basements--the violations are more insidious, more metaphysical, and the secrets kept hidden under a more secure set of locks and keys.