The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo ★★★★½

Rooney Mara’s performance as Lisbeth Salander is up there with Sheryl Lee’s work as Laura Palmer as being one of my all time favorite female leads, period. 

This film features perhaps the most uncomfortable depiction of sexual violence I’ve seen outside of *maybe* Irreversible (though I deem it to be less egregiously tasteless as the scene is not a spectacle of horror) which is always a difficult tightrope to walk across. However, I think that there’s a certain truth to be found here that warrants the inclusion. There’s a reason ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ novel was originally titled ‘Men Who Hate Women’- as this is very much a story about the horror of control inherent with masculine power. 

It’s strange considering this is a very pulpy murder mystery that’s right up Fincher’s alley somewhere between ‘Gone Girl’ and ‘Seven’- but it’s an interesting avenue to explore the topic. We have a case firmly entrenched in the past that exemplifies both fascist and masculine power being exerted over women to where the only salvation that can be hoped for comes in the form of escape and a renewal/rebirth of one’s own identity. We see the grip of lies a corporate financial institution has, easily able to snuff out the truth from those who seek to expose it. Financial manipulation, corporate gluttony, sexual abuse, murder, fascism, every single way someone can feasibly BE exploited or cannibalized can be found in ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’- and the only thing that seems to exact true justice or rectify the mistakes and oversights of those who abuse power is seeking truth outside of the law. 

Vigilantism is always an interesting subject in fiction, and I’ve always found it interesting because it’s always been so intrinsically linked to revenge. In this respect I also find it a bit irritating because vigilante justice is always more of a fascinating fictional device when it’s used to enact real justice at the hands of the oppressed against their oppressors. Rather than Batman trying to exact justice on criminals being in a position of power and beating upon those of a lower class in society, we see something far more genuinely challenging and thought provoking. Justice is an intangible idea and we do our best to try and harness it despite the fact that we can’t see it. What does real fairness even look like? 

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo suggests that it is, in fact, very ugly. 

And really, there’s an argument to be made there. Humanity itself, in not just The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, in Fincher’s entire oeuvre, is unspeakably ugly. Every film he’s made is masterfully crafted symmetrical beauty incarnate, but his images themselves are of cold, unfeeling architecture, dingy disgusting environments filled with greasy oily bodies, rooms and environments that feel sickly by their desaturated coloring and sickly greens and yellows. 

And to say all this implies Girl With the Dragon Tattoo might be lofty or up its own ass, and that’s just not the case. As I said, it’s a pulpy detective story first and foremost. Take away all the pretense, and it’s still just a fascinatingly put together formal exercise from cinema’s most prominent digital pioneer. I love how the film takes its time by using the first hour to keep Mikael and Lisbeth separated in order to firmly establish their characters and dilemmas before they cross paths, like studying chemical reagents just to see them combine in a glorious reaction. Any scene they share together is incredible, Craig and Mara do incredibly good charismatic work that brings to mind the duo of Mills and Somerset back in Seven, which makes the already fascinating mystery even more interesting to see play out as it’s explored in the most dynamic way possible. Fincher’s attention to detail in his characters is just as on point as his filmmaking, little bits of personality almost gleefully shining through the subtlety of the actors. 

I also think the screenplay here is among the best Fincher’s worked with, maybe even as good as The Social Network, at times, as it’s almost as sharp but doesn’t contain the occasionally annoying Sorkin aphorisms that feel a bit to stilted for their own good. 

One of Fincher’s most effortlessly entertaining works, and I will forever be disappointed that he didn’t end up doing, or at least supervising, the two sequels. It’s still however, a complete story that enthralled from beginning to end.

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