Book vs. Movie: ‘The Girl Who Played with Fire’


It’s not every day that a film is as good as or even better than a great book. Daniel Alfredson, director, and Jonas Frykberg, screenwriter, have accomplished a surprise. Despite being made for European TV, despite its lack of theme development and despite its sensationalism of Lisbeth’s sex rendezvous, “The Girl who Played with Fire” film got a 4.5/5 rating from The Skyview Community Book Club.

The book version of this second part of the Millennium Trilogy received a unanimous 4/5 from book club members because of the difficulty in following and completely understanding all the plots that webbed out from the driving action. The close to 1,000 page book is so anxious to mirror its themes of control and dominance that some of its subplots, like governmental corruption, got a little confusing.

Revolutionary Female Force

We are sold in the first book/film, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” on the driving force of Lisbeth Salander, who, despite being beaten down repeatedly, gets back up with greater strength each time. The attempts to destroy her only serve to strengthen her resolve.

Lisbeth is the female icon, eclipsing Superman, Skywalker and Potter hero characterizations with realistic depth, angst and suffering. Following the classic stages of Joseph’s Campbell’s universal journey of the hero, Lisbeth Salander inspires and mesmerizes the viewer. Despite her nightmare childhood and seemingly insurmountable challenges, through cunning, strength, and personal talents, Lisbeth always rebounds with greater cleverness and strength to overcome.

In book/film two, “The Girl who Played with Fire,” this resilience is tested further, and that becomes the focus of the film more than any theme or universal message.

There are also other differences between the book and the film. What the viewer notices the most is that Frykberg, the screenwriter, was able to cut through all the extraneous subplots, stick to the major action and deliver a suspenseful thriller that rivets the viewer. Noomi Rapace’s strong screen presence, with her dark piercing eyes and small, unsmiling, often silent mouth command the viewer’s allegiance and awe.

It is through this character development that Rapace, nailing the spirit of Stieg Larsson’s somewhat androgynous character, honors both the book and the greater purpose of Larsson’s work in bringing to focus a revolutionary female force.

Why not 5 out of 5?

That gets me to why this film earns just a 4.5 and not a perfect 5. It all has to do with theme development. While the book version of “Fire” gets overly detailed in additional and sometimes not fully explained plot details, particularly the government corruption angle (not covered much in the film), the movie focuses on the literal plot and not the great Larsson theme.

Perhaps the third installment of the Millennium Trilogy will round up all the loose ends and slam-dunk Larsson’s greater theme and purpose. But “Fire,” both the book and film, do not significantly follow up or develop the foundation for Larsson’s focus in “Tattoo” to make it strong enough as a stand-alone movie or a great, life-changing cinematic experience.

Larsson Core

At the core of Larsson’s work is his recognition of the basis for human failure. Leave it to the Scandinavians, home of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” to lift up the rock to reveal the slimy, creepy dark reality. His life’s work revolved around man’s inhumanity to man and primitive, instinctual drive to survive through power and control. Development of physical strength has its most obvious benefits and the most obvious underdog would be those who were outwardly physically weaker. This is the origin of the male/female conflict that Larsson examines through a multi-faceted prism in his trilogy. It is though this drive to dominate and control that Larsson exposes the roots of bias and prejudice that end up manifested in a tangled web of corruption and destruction in current society.

What is interesting and ultimately so universally appealing about his protagonist, Lisbeth Salander, is that Larsson takes this concept of dominance and control in new instructive directions. Omitted from the film are allusions to Lisbeth’s interest in advanced math and her phenomenal success with chess, showing Lisbeth’s own attraction to dominance. One book club member has said, “Salander is intrigued with math because it is absolute – black and white. As she masters the great mathematical formulas she has control, something that she has had to little of in her life.”

And this control is what Lisbeth is determined to never lose again. The instructive homily on a deeper level, is that when men take away a woman’s access to choices, to control, there is ironically an aspect of self-destructive karma. The male characters who attempt to wrong a woman in “Fire” all end up suffering significantly painful consequences.

The Bottom Line

Yes, the film follows a simplified slice of the book action, and it does it very well, despite my doubts after viewing the clips and trailer and learning that the last two film segments had a different production crew, including new director and screenwriter. As it turns out, the production is professional, fast-paced, gripping and even thrilling. In addition, the book club members found that reading both “Tattoo” and “Fire” beforehand enhanced their viewing of the movie, “making it a richer experience because the books provided so much background information.”

So, don’t see this film without seeing “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (now available on DVD) first, and if you have the time and ability, read each book before seeing each film. Larsson is a detailed writer whose webbed plots and theme development dramatically enhance these fine productions.


Director: Daniel Alfredson
Writers: Jonas Frykberg (screenplay) Stieg Larsson (novel)
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Mikael Nygvist and Lena Endre

European Release: September 2009
UK Release:Aug. 27, 2010
US Release: July 2, 2010, in seven theatres in NYC and Chicago.
July 9 to 16, at selected theatres:

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4 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. Jessika #

    I just started reading this series, will hold out for the films until I’ve read them all!

  2. Rosie #

    I just finished reading the third book and had a hard time finishing it. I knew there would not be another and I had gotten so involved with the characters that I was sad to leave them. Because there won’t be another book, I still have unanswered questions about Lisbeth. I wonder if it was the author’s intent that we would never know, or if he anticipated writing another book in the future? I will watch the movies at a later date, hoping “Hornet” will also be made into a book. This was an unforgettable trilogy and I will miss not being involved with these characters again

  3. jeff potkin #

    any fans feel free to discuss. i liked the 2nd book much more than the first. and the movie as well. i read fire twice and plan on seeing the movie again. name me one story or storyteller that even comes close to larsson.

  4. jeff potkin #

    any fans out there who want to talk about the girl who plays with fire email me or find me on facebook.

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