Movie vs. Novel: “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”


Last spring when The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo hit theaters here in the U.S., I was not ready to see it. The novel had captivated and disturbed me. How could they make a movie out of it? At the same time, I realized the movie may bring more readers to the novel, and that’s a good thing. I certainly hope so.

Finally last night I watched the DVD of the movie. Movies suffer from restrictions that don’t exist for novels; e.g. time restrictions (time is truly money in the movie business), nothing internal like a character’s thoughts, and only what can be heard and seen. So, immediately I missed the way Larsson had given the reader access to what a character thought in a scene in the novel. The movie’s story focuses intently on solving the mystery of Harriet Vanger’s disappearance, so Salander’s experiences feel more like an important subplot rather than being a parallel story-line. By necessity, the movie also cuts the number of characters that become involved in Salander’s and Mikael’s lives during the investigation. The relationship between Salander’s life and what she and Mikael learn during the investigation has a clarity that would make Larsson happy, I believe. The undercurrent of Nazi beliefs as well as the male abuse of power are both present, too.

But….

I missed the depth and richness of Larsson’s novel. He provided character development with Mikael and Lisbeth and their relationship as a character that is lacking in the movie. The real villain’s actions toward Mikael toward the end lose some of their horror because the movie has left out certain characters who heightened the horror of that moment for me in the novel. Lisbeth’s conflicts with her new guardian and the way she resolves them, however, remain true to the novel and equally horrific for actually seeing the action in the movie. The filmmakers still made the right decision to focus only on the Harriet Vanger mystery and do that well with clarity — it makes for a gripping story.

The actor who played Salander was the only one who came close to the way I’d imagined her. All the other characters were far away from the way I’d imagined them, especially Mikael, Erika, Bjurman and Martin. I liked, however, that Frode was a vigorous older man rather than the way I’d imagined him as rather gaunt. They also did quite a good job casting Harriet Vanger. Casts of movies almost never resemble the way I imagine the characters when reading the source novels. But, I wished the actor who played Mikael had resembled more closely the way I’d imagined him and it bugged me. I have not yet read any of the Harry Potter novels, so I’ll have the opposite problem with them because I’ve seen all the movies to date.

Watching the movie and seeing the Swedish landscape, the cityscape of Stockholm, the actual physical world in which the story occurs surprised me in scene after scene. I realized that the landscapes that I’d imagined were different, based on Larsson’s descriptions and embellished by my imagination. This was not disappointing, but added a lot of interest for me for the movie. This is not the Sweden of an Ingmar Bergman (whose movies I love) film but Lisbeth Salander’s Sweden that she shares with Mikael Blomkvist.

I recommend the movie, especially if you haven’t yet read the novel(s). Read the novel after seeing the movie. If you’ve already read the novel, wait awhile to watch the movie so that there’s some distance from the novel. I think the movie will be more enjoyable as a result. I look forward now to the movie of The Girl Who Played With Fire…..

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