by Tony Dayoub
I was one of many who wondered about the wisdom of remaking a film which was an international phenom only one year after it played domestically. After all, there was no way a prudish Hollywood version would be able to dive into the depths of the type of depravity that the Swedish adaptation of Stieg Larsson's novel sinks the viewer into. As was the case with the American remake, Let Me In, though, David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo goes all in and maybe even further in both sexual explicitness and thematic scope. Surprisingly, it also provides further insight into Fincher's growing preoccupation with the breakdown of secrecy as a result of the increasing advances in information brokerage.
At its surface, The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo is about a disgraced investigative journalist, Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), who takes on an unusual assignment at the behest of elderly industrial magnate Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer). Working with the ultra-emo Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara)—a streetwise hacker savant—Blomkvist searches for answers regarding the disappearance of Vanger's niece Harriet over 40 years ago. Given the circumstances, the most likely suspects are Vanger's relatives, a corrupt collection of former Nazis, eccentric entrepreneurs and corporate tycoons that include his nephew, Martin (Stellan Skarsgård) and niece, Anita (Joely Richardson). Down deep, though, Larsson's story is really about the clash of old Sweden against new Sweden; its buried ties to Nazism only the most obvious example of a pervasive streak of xenophobia that threatens to be exposed in the age of Google, where the gradually smaller global village is causing such exclusion or fear of the other to fast become a relic.
Vanger's world of secrets is giving way to Blomkvist's era of transparency, and the emergence of the ultimate "other," Salander—a cipher-like receptacle of informational minutiae—is the only logical outcome. The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo is in many ways an extension of themes Fincher began exploring as early as Se7en: secrets will be exposed. But with each successive film, this idea has morphed and developed past the simple premise of a "lone gunman"-type agent doing the exposing. Neither Se7en's John Doe (Kevin Spacey) or Fight Club's Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), both conspiratorial nut-jobs, are mentally capable or sophisticated enough to properly expose the underlying evils that plague society. Zodiac's Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhall) is the Fincher Seeker 2.0—unafflicted by the same level of mental imbalance as his two precursors, but still hampered in solving the identity of a serial killer by the analog tools of his time. Volumes of books and files are not really portable the way a simple laptop is, as Dragon Tattoo's Blomkvist would no doubt attest to. But here comes Salander, a fictional cousin to The Social Network's version of Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg).
The concept of the "Quantified Self" was discussed yesterday on NPR, coincidentally while I was en route to the Dragon Tattoo screening. What it boils down to is that we are now so interconnected to our technology that we are able to quantify everything about ourselves, from our sleeping patterns and geographical movements to our literary tastes and the restaurants we prefer. This is creating a more comprehensively documented virtual self that we can turn to when seeking answers for medical ailments, financial needs, etc. Fincher makes us far more conscious of this continual monitoring of the self and others than was ever attempted in the original Swedish film by Niels Arden Oplev. The success of the more analog Blomkvist and the digital Salander lies in their interconnectedness, a thesis Fincher begins to lay out in the opening credit sequence depicting organic, liquid-like cables encircling male and female figures that resemble the two protagonists. Salander's ability to quantify her self and that of her partner (due to a rather complete background check of Blomkvist she completed early in the film) allows them to more quickly course correct when traveling down a metaphorical dead end than any of Fincher's previous Seekers have ever been able to.
Of course, Salander's Asperger-like detachment and facility with technology is reminiscent of the type of criticism lodged against Fincher himself for making movies that are technically adept but emotionally frigid. And I suppose there might be some overlap. Fincher certainly has a fluency with the kind of voyeuristic syntax necessary to explain his obsessions with exposing secrets. Security-cam shots like the one above, a predisposition towards laying out key plot components on computer screens and the open floor-to-ceiling windows of Martin Vanger's mountaintop home all speak to the level of exposure that society lives under today. In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the mystery isn't what happened to Harriett Vanger, but how it's even possible that no one has discovered the answer yet.