The thrill with the ‘Dragon Tattoo’

Bert B. Sulat Jr.

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo imparts a cynical world view: evil makes the world go round
  MANILA, Philippines – American director David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is by no means an exceptional movie. Yet this second celluloid adaptation of the late Swedish novelist Stieg Larsson’s posthumous bestseller is a very good one, akin to a hushed, beauteous body that belies a raging spirit. Not having read the million-selling book beyond a bookstore browse (its original title is Män Som Hatar Kvinnor or Men Who Hate Women) nor having seen the 2009 Swedish adaptation, which has its share of loyalists, I cannot offer a comparison between the two onscreen renditions or between the source literature and this Hollywood take that was scripted by Steven Zaillian (the award-winning adapter of Thomas Kenneally’s Schindler’s List). Then again, the marketing geniuses behind this latest Dragon Tattoo must have been well aware of the different moviegoing types who would gravitate toward this 2011 flick: besides fans of Larsson and his first of a trilogy, there’s David Fincher fans, those who dig lead star Daniel Craig and those just now discovering actress Rooney Mara (last seen on a smaller scale in Fincher’s 2010 opus, The Social Network). Thankfully, Fincher and company were respectful enough to have retained the story’s mostly Swedish settings—all the better to show a snowy landscape that mirrors the cold-heartedness of the evildoers lurking among the populace. (While the dialogue here is in English, the non-Swede actors assume unassuming Nordic accents.) And thankfully, Fincher, a tastefully accomplished mainstream filmmaker, must have had his eye on another type of moviegoer: the kind who enjoys great entertainment. Granted, there is something askew or perverse in referring to the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo—whose subtle yet potent narrative involves murder, sexual abuse, promiscuity and vendetta—as “entertainment.” In essence, this is the story of a pair of atypical sleuths—a skittish male investigative journalist, freshly sued for libel, and the titular girl, a stolid hacker-researcher freshly scarred by rape—banding together laboriously (and, soon, nakedly) to solve the mystery of a millionaire’s long-gone niece. (Such is this flick’s richness that when journalist Mikael Blomkvist and tattooed punk Lisbeth Salander finally meet almost halfway through, it’s as if the movie segued into a second film for the price of one.) But Dragon Tattoo does in fact have a helping of disturbing themes and scenes that would have merited the scissor-happy ire of MTRCB officialdoms past. (Kudos to Board chairperson Grace Poe-Llamanzares, et al. for having, instead of sharp scissors, the sharp sensibility to approve this adults-only film sans cuts.) Yet for all the harsh, if engrossing, elements tucked across this 158-minute movie (itself a distillation of the thick novel’s 670 pages), the point appears to be not to incite shock or provoke but to stimulate thought and make the viewer ponder. As the story’s early pièce de résistance unfolds, a shrill rape scene that inspires absolute silence from the audience and which is not long after followed by a violent retort, the onscreen goings-on and one’s remembrances of off-screen, headline-hogging torture just might involuntarily intersect in the viewer’s head. And the denouement, which depicts a well-off character with the means to be mean, effectively echoes the real-life low-life scum among high society. In the end, the movie, in artful yet accessible tones, seems to impart a cynical world view: Evil makes the world go round. At that, the film is like a furious carnival ride you’d swear off once your turn was over, yet would happily line up for again in due time, if only to relish the peculiar thrill of it anew. We can argue forever about the merits or demerits of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but I for one am grateful that it is interesting enough to make us argue at all. – Click on the links below for more.

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