Under Review: ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’


Since his death, Stieg Larsson has been gaining unstoppable momentum through his crime novels — namely his book “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” which has become a posthumous best-seller in a plethora of European countries.

The plot of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” revolves around a murder mystery that spans generations. The victim in the case is Harriet Vanger, the niece to the aging former CEO of the successful Vanger companies. But there is hope for Henrik Vanger — who constantly reminisces about his lost niece — and this hope stems from the framed plants she receives in the mail annually. Others would think of this as pure mockery by his niece’s murderer, but Henrik uses these “presents” as a gateway into justice.

He hires a journalist named Mikael Blomkvist, who is in turmoil because of a lost lawsuit with a powerful industrialist, to crack the case. The only problem is that Blomkvist is sentenced to jail time in six months and is at risk of losing his magazine “Millennium,” which he publishes. But motivated by a large pay-out, Blomkvist tries to find the young Harriet’s murder.

It’s an interesting premise, so it’s no wonder that director Niels Arden Oplev and screen-writers Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg have made a film adaption. But Oplev’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is handicapped by a shockingly pornographic and gory direction and lack of any substantial character development.

Mikael Blomkvist is not the character that could have used some back-story; it’s actually Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), the anti-social Goth that Blomkvist enlists to help him on the case. Lisbeth is a professional hacker who has been tracking Blomkvist’s activity prior to sending him a tip on the case thus alerting him to her presence.

Other than a couple of unexplained flashbacks, Lisbeth’s character is never fully fleshed out. Lisbeth just seems to be more of a symbolic presence than a likable lead.

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is also called “Men Who Hate Women.” That being said, womanhood is an important theme in the film and it’s emphasized in two ways. One of the ways is the dragon tattoo that Lisbeth bares. Dragons represent the protection of something worth treasuring. Though this impacts her likability and believability, Lisbeth does work as a symbol. She represents womanhood and the dragon tattoo just serves as a visual aid for her non-oppressive nature.

However, the second way of showcasing this theme is much more controversial. The film features a scene in which Lisbeth’s probation officer ties her down and brutally rapes her in exchange for money. This is just one of the many cringe-inducing scenes that plague the film.

It’s a grotesque viewing experience that is just elongated by a needlessly lengthy running time. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is hard to recommend to mainstream film goers for its brutality and even harder to recommend to art house lovers for its lack of importance.

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Follow Mariusz Zubrowski on Twitter at

3 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. 1

    I really enjoyed the review. It doesn’t sound like my cup of tea, so I’ll pass.

  2. 2

    I actually saw the second movie adapted from the second book in Montreal. The books and movies were a huge success in French before they became well known in English.
    Read all of the 3 books which make up the trilogy. However I wasn’t impressed with the movie at all. It initially was made for T.V. and it shows, the production value is really not very high. Furthermore transcribing the story from book to movie was not a smooth transition. If you haven’t read the second book you might have trouble with the story.
    I was going to rent the DVD of Girl with the Dragon Tatoo but decided against it since I wasn’t impressed with the second film. Marius’ review only confirms that I made a good choice. Much better to read the books instead.

  3. Bev #

    Oh you guys! This is a great film and book with important messages about choices. I’m learning from Salander. Beware!

    My book club gave both the book and film 10 thumbs up (there are 10 of us) and the film quality is great!

    However Mariusz, I don’t like the brutality in it either. But you do have to say that it was not gratuitously presented.

    Thanks for the info on the dragon symbol. I didn’t know that! However, I also saw that Salander might represent the universal woman who has been dominated in many ways through history.

    Swedes are noted for being forthright and the Swedish women I know have powerful personalities. They invoke a little fear.

    So that’s what I’m working on, men!

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