Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo ****

Director: David Fincher
Cast: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara
Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgård, Yorick van Wageningen
Robin Wright, Joely Richardson, Goran Višnjić, Joel Kinnaman
Embeth Davidtz, Steven Berkoff, Geraldine James
Julian Sands, Josefin Asplund

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo takes place in a godless land, where what once was mystical and spiritual, has been replaced by an omnipresent respect for technology. For a director that has explored the viciousness of modern society with such an emphasis on the machinery - both literal and figurative - behind the human psyche, this adaptation of the Stieg Larsson bestseller, might very well be his most personal work to date.
In it, David Fincher once again establishes himself as the master of all things "procedural" but he also seems to be reaching out towards questions that lie outside the realm of computer chips and science. This is the first movie in which he acknowledges the fact that some people truly believe there are things that are inexplicable and that there just might be a god.
Of course, Fincher doesn't rely on the sensuous scope of a Terrence Malick movie, or even the aggressive interrogations of Lars von Trier, instead he explores this notion through the elements that have always worked for him. This is why the heroine in this film, Lisbeth Salander (Mara) is an expert hacker with serious social disabilities. She sits on the outskirts of a society that has made her feel foreign (that the movie opens with a cover of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" is a strike of genius) and has made the conscious decision to rely specifically on her knowledge.
Lisbeth's job is to do research, which in less fancy terms means she hacks people's computers, bank accounts and any other sort of electronic device in order to figure out who they are. This obviously helps her decipher people's economic and social behavior, but it doesn't really help her connect with them, discover who they are behind the public facade.
That's why when she is asked to comment on the personality of Mikael Blomkvist (Craig) - a fallen from grace journalist she's been investigating - she can only add that she thinks he should perform more cunnilingus on his lover. Isn't our bedroom behavior, the one thing not everyone can have access to?
Blomkvist is hired by aging magnate Henrik Vagner (Plummer) to help him discover what happened to his niece who disappeared mysteriously more then four decades before. The reluctant journalist takes on the mission and soon his path will cross with Lisbeth's.
Larsson's novel shocked worldwide audiences because it revealed a portrait of Sweden that wasn't "conceivable". One where technology moguls and former Nazis (always the Nazis!) controlled the business world and constantly violated the widely accepted notion that Sweden was one of the happiest places on earth.
Where Larsson commented on the corruption that flowed within the structure of his country, Fincher observes it not as an overpowering force, but as a series of conflicts between vastly different currents of thought. Superficially every battle in the movie can be summed up as a juxtaposition of the old with the new, but this of course remains entirely subjective as you discover the ramifications of each of the parties.
Perhaps the most obvious dichotomy is the one found between religion and technology, it's as if Fincher is asking if it's impossible for god to exist in a world where technology has made humans almost omnipotent.
While some people might think of organized religion as something normal, most characters in this film react harshly towards displays of faith. Blomkvist's teenage daughter Pernilla (Asplund) reminds her father that she is not dangerous when he sees her say grace before a meal and a member of the Vanger family casually wonders "can you imagine one of us being religious?" as if it was something to run away from.
This is tightly connected to another conflict in the movie, that of civilization vs. nature. Almost every scene set in exteriors is filled with endless menace, from snow storms, to the creepy shadows cast by a's as if these people have stopped trusting the outside world.
Most scenes set outside of houses and buildings place the characters close enough to a door, as if they need to be prepared to run from something dangerous. This is even more persistent in scenes shot on interiors in which the marvelous DP Jeff Cronenwerth, always tries to keep nature outside. In several scenes glass plays an essential weapon against the perils of nature, especially when Cronenwerth uses it as a reflective surface which fools the characters into thinking that there is nothing to distrust outside.
This can also be linked to what was supposed to be the central theme in the novel, the eternal battle of the sexes, especially that which evolves into misogyny. Blomkvist and Lisbeth run into the possibility of finding a killer of women who not only relies on nature to destroy them, but also seems to be targeting religious people. When to this, you tie the constant mentions of a "new" and "old" Sweden represented by both the denial of the past and the fast evolution of technology, and you realize that Fincher's film was able to go past the lightness of its literary source. For what can an old world mean if not one ran exclusively by patriarchs? One in which women in power were to be feared and destroyed at all costs. During a key moment, Blomkvist and Lisbeth have sex. She is on top and shuts his mouth as she tries to achieve orgasm. His face turns into a canvas on which discomfort and shock are displayed; who does this woman think she is and why is her orgasm more important than mine? Lisbeth may not realize that what she's doing goes against the chauvinist ways that have always ruled the world and throughout the film we are reminded that technology and so called evolution may not be but more tools to maintain this prehistoric nature. Fincher's movie is just as thrilling and pulpy as any audience member would want, but beneath the smooth seal of its auteur lies a twisted study of how we are forever doomed to repeat history.


Andy Buckle said...

Wow. Fantastic write-up. I really loved this film, but I didn't consider it in this sort of depth. Excellent observations, Jose.

Dan O. said...

It’s certainly worth seeing if you missed the original. If you saw it, however, there’s no way of unseeing it, and nothing in the new one to top it. Craig and Mara are great here though and Fincher brings so much more to this film like I was expecting too. Good review.