BRIEFLY: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is David Fincher’s version of female Fight Club. For years Fincher has been derided (and deservedly so) for his supposed hate for women, at least in Fight Club. Yet, Dragon Tattoo is the anti-male movie, with a fiercely quiet Rooney Mara saving the day and the man like some female version of a punk-rock superhero. She kicks ass, takes names, and even does a little body art in a moment that doesn’t just scream feminist empowerment—it howls it. This is certainly not a movie for everyone (there’s an abundance of nudity, drug use, and a few rape scenes). In other words, don’t see it if this content is offensive to you, but if you read the source material (by the same name penned by Stieg Larsson (and you probably did—It sold over 50 million copies), you’ll certainly find Fincher’s take both haunting and quite loyal.
DETAILED REVIEW: What’s so interesting about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is how popular it is. How on earth a book with such heinous content rose to such popularity is beyond me. It’s not for the Twilight, Hunger Games, or Harry Potter crowd and I certainly can’t envision it being on Oprah’s book club, but here it is 50 million sold and counting. Every terrible thing you can imagine (yes pretty much except maybe the extinction of the McRib) is in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Rape, violent killings, blood, sexual deviants, drug use, intercourse, and sexual promiscuity are all on full display on both the pages and on screen. If you have ovaries in fact, you probably should just hide in a closet somewhere. That, at least on the surface is with Dragon Tattoo is about.
Someone in the Swedish wealthy Vanger family has vanished some time ago, and the eldest member of the family wants it to finally be solved. In comes Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) to save the day. In true narrative form, one would assume that Blomkvist will indeed solve the crime, but this is not your typical film. Instead, Blomkvist needs the help of dare I say—a woman.
In comes genius sleuth Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). She saves her male counterpart (a rather inept David Craig) while also managing to lift up her gender in the meantime by saving the oppressed females from Tyler Durden and the Fight Club misogynists. While most films in classical Hollywood form hew to the male being in charge, Dragon Tattoo skews completely to the side of the female. When Lisbeth needs something she takes it—just like the Honey Badger only instead of Half-eaten cobras, she wields brains and pierced breasts. When Lisbeth wants sex—she takes it. There’s no casual or even chivalry involved—its cold and calculated like her. She looks at times like an abstract painting with her extreme hair, piercings, tattoos, and scowl. We project our own back story onto her pale canvas face throughout the film. One thing we are sure of—if we are in a fight we want Salander. Durden is our second pick.
At one point, we do find ourselves wondering if Fincher has leapt back into his misogynistic tendencies as Salander does get raped in an unnerving display that is anything but easy to watch (semi-spoiler there). Moments later, Fincher shocks us with a revenge rape in which Salander utilizes a “night-stick” and a little permanent black tattoo ink. By the end of that similarly unnerving scene we’re not doubting Salander anymore, she can fend for herself and then some. In other words, she’s no post-rehab Kelly Osbourne.
The film follows both Blomkvist and Salander as they work to solve the crime. It’s a whodunit, but not necessarily one in which we wonder who actually did it as much as why they are connected to the two protagonists. At times the viewer will certainly wonder “what’s the connection,” but by the end they’ll hopefully have a “ah-ha” moment. That should occur when Salander literally saves Blomkvist only to ask almost mechanically, “may I kill him?” It’s at that time we realize Fincher’s full vision of the film not as a faithful adaption to the crime thriller, but to the raw power of feminism. Rooney Mara IS Salander and probably has found her way firmly into the Oscar race as a result. She immerses herself into the role so much so that the only way to describe it is to use a tired cliché: she was born for it. No doubt Julia Roberts, Reece Witherspoon, nor even Hollywood’s hottest mess Lindsay Lohan would even answer a casting call to a film as daring as Fincher’s Dragon Tattoo. None of them will probably even Netflix it—which is a compliment really. I doubt Salander’s ever seen Pretty Woman and I bet The Parent Trip isn’t even in her queue.
While Fight Club defined what it meant to be man, and maybe even still what it means to be a man, it’s hard to decide whether Dragon Tattoo will have that impact for women. If anything though, it’s the bookend to its gender sibling Fight Club and at least now we know that if Tyler Durden were real, he’d be fantasizing about Salander (as if he’d have a chance with her. After all she’s got James Bond). Watch a Kotex commercial, sip a Diet Coke, and give yourself a cigarette burn. After you’ve done all that watch The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.Grade: A-