The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: Lisbeth Salander by Any Other Name

The new adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” is visually stunning, well-adapted, and very entertaining. But without Noomi Rapace, how good can it be? (Spoiler warning!)

I suspect that those who haven’t seen the Swedish version of “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” will enjoy this new adaptation far more than those who have. This new movie had a lot going for it. The soundtrack is excellent, and it should be — according to CBS News, it took Nine Inch Nails founder Trent Reznor and producer-musician Atticus Ross fourteen months to create (though bizarrely, the villian plays Enya when he is about to torture Blomkvist). The intro sequence, shot in a style that will seem very familiar to Bond fans, betrays the high production values, as does the stunning visual composition (which at times mirrors shots from original film, but is far more slick). Though not as complex as the book, for obvious reasons, director David Fincher reveals and unravels the mystery with skill.

Daniel Craig made a convincing Blomkvist, far more so than Michael Nyqvist, mostly because Craig is actually charming and therefore much better-suited to the role of charismatic journalist, and partly because anyone who walks around with his glasses hanging off of one ear deserves a bit of applause.(Also, Young Henrik was played by Julian Sands, who played Jenny’s douchey professor in The L Word. He is still weird.)

Unlike the Swedish adaptation, which takes for granted that viewers will know what is going on and spares little time for explanations, Fincher’s film does a better job of smoothing over narrative gaps, explaining events, and giving background. The result is more cohesive, and of course longer, though dedicated fans will be annoyed by departures from the books for the sake of brevity. Harriet herself also appears much earlier in the film, and at the end, placing her in London instead of Australia also makes for a nicely wrapped-up explanation without actually having to verbally explain everything she’s been up to in the past few decades. Having Blomkvist interview a disguised Harriet about herself at one point is also a nice touch.

With better production values, a more fluid plot, and several more believable characters, the American adaptation of “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” should be a definite improvement on the Swedish one. But it isn’t. With everything else aside, the main difference between the two is this: in the Swedish film, Lisbeth Salander is angry, purposeful, and smoldering. In the American film, she is fragile, alienated, and, at times, apologetic.

In the Swedish movie, the first time we see Salander, she is at work following Blomkvist. The first time we hear about her, her boss at Milton Security, Armansky, describes her as “a special little girl,” a description that doesn’t fit with what she has already done, and that really doesn’t fit her, even though people insist on using it throughout the film. It certainly doesn’t fit the person who, two seconds later, walks through the door and seems to scare the crap out of everyone just by drinking her coffee.

In the American movie, we hear about Salander before she ever appears on the screen. Armansky and  Dirch Frode are talking about her. Armansky says, “No one here likes her. […] She’s different.” “In what way?” “In every way.” While the dialogue is less overtly infantilizing, the looks the men exchange when she walks in and sits down are not. She does seem different, or at least out of place. But she isn’t scaring anyone. She just isn’t badass enough.

Being not-badass, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing. Rooney Mara is a strong actress and excels in her role, and for viewers who haven’t seen the Swedish adaptation, that is probably enough. In an interview on CTV.ca, Fincher describes Salander as “a damaged wraith, a little crow,” and recalls telling Mara: “I cast you in another movie to be warm and feminine and verbal and mature, and I don’t need any of that. I want the antithesis of that.” And he got it. But something is missing from the remake, and that something is Noomi Rapace’s Salander, or even Larsson’s Salander, and her intensity.

At one point, for instance, there is a dead cat. In the book, Salander says, “when I find the motherfucker who tortured an innocent cat to death just to send us a warning, I’m going to clobber him with a baseball bat.” You could believe Rapace doing that. You couldn’t believe Mara.

It’s weird that Rapace in her skinny jeans and choppy haircut looks tougher than Mara in her baggy pants and mohawk. And gayer. Rapace’s Salander gives off queer girl vibes from a mile away. Mara’s Salander does the same, but — even picking up Mimi in a lesbian bar and waking up with her the next morning — it seems much more muted.

noomi rapace as lisbeth salander

A lot more time is also dedicated to her relationship with Blomkvist. In the Swedish film, Salander takes control and keeps it, while in this one, he takes control almost immediately, and she becomes much softer and accessible as of the next morning. She also gives up her secret — of being considered legally incompetent — much more easily (she doesn’t tell him in either the books or in the first Swedish movie). In contrast, in the book she says she is probably the best hacker in Sweden, which she does not mention in the movie. In the book and in the Swedish film, more time is dedicated to her abilities and to the things she can do, while in Fincher’s adaptation, there is a lot more focus on the things she can’t.

The books themselves have a weird mix of feminism and anti-feminism — on one hand, there is a kick-ass Bechdel-test-passing female character, and on the other, there is a lot of misogyny and a lot of female corpses. The Swedish adaptation seems to say, “Here’s this kickass lady who horrible things have happened to, let’s see what she can do.” The American adaptation seems to say, “I am a mystery movie!”

This is probably a good way to spend three hours. However, if you have been referring to Noomi Rapace’s Salander as your fake girlfriend (what?), you are probably not going to change your mind.

Carolyn Yates was the NSFW Editor (2013–2018) and Literary Editor for Autostraddle.com, with bylines in Nylon, Refinery29, The Toast, Bitch, Xtra!, Jezebel, and elsewhere. They live in Los Angeles and also on twitter and instagram.

Carolyn has written 1045 articles for us.

79 Comments

  1. Thought the swedish version got the mood right. Much more threatening throughout.

    Daniel Craig was the only really bad part – the glasses dangling was completely tacked on (ummm…how can we turn Bond into a slightly frumpy, liberal journalist. Ah fuck it, just give him a cardie and make him dangle his specs).

    Also while everyone else gave their voice a slight tinge of an accent, Daniel played the role like an English tourist, except inexplicably for his opening line.

    Thought the ending was better though. Overall it was fine but really not worth the time if you’ve seen the original.

  2. I really am in love with Salander’s character, and think that neither version of this movie really did her justice. But overall, the Swedish version wins, by far. I get annoyed with Hollywood’s obsession of emasculating awesome, kickass women. The American version softened her, and I thought her physical appearance was more overdone with less attention paid to her personality.

    Hollywood is a little overeager to sexualize lesbian characters, and I think the Swedish film depicted her sexuality more tastefully. The Girl Who Played with Fire is when her relationship with Mimi is really explored, and I think a bunch of American dudes were just excited to have chick on chick action, as soon as possible. Which wouldn’t bother me if I didn’t instantly get the mental image of a bunch of dudes in Armani suits fist-pumping at a conference table while reading over the screen-play. *Mental shudder*

    With that said, the Swedish film includes a GREAT scene in the The Girl Who Played with Fire that has Lisbeth tongue-fucking Mimi that was incredibly hot and well-done. Who knows how awfully the Americans will butcher that. I think I will stay in my happy Swedish place and refrain from seeing the other American films.

  3. Noomi Rapace is defiantly more badass looking but I like Rooney Mara, I haven’t seen the US remake yet but I’ve seen the Original Swedish, hope it could top but I doubt it really! The book is always better though and I’m reading it again just for the hell of it lmao!

  4. I read the books and saw the Swedish films. I was totally prepared to dislike the US adaptation. But I didn’t. I loved it. I actually liked Mara better than Rapace because she wasn’t as badass looking. She seemed more vulnerable to me and that fit (to me) more with Lisbeth’s character. I loved Rapace too though don’t get me wrong.

    I was disappointed that they didn’t establish Lisbeth’s relationship with Mimi in the bar scene. It makes it look like a random hook up.

    And, of course, the characters are much more complex than they appear on screen and so I can see how someone with no knowledge of the books or media frenzy around the characters might not understand them (and therefore think the movie was just a male fantasy or anti-feminist). I completely disagree, having read all the books.

    For example, I read a comment on another site where a woman was furious because she felt like the movie depicted another man trying to turn a lesbian straight. She had interpreted from the beginning of the film that Lisbeth was a lesbian and then thought that after sleeping with Mikael she was now “changed” and in love. Of course, having read all the books I know that this couldn’t be further from the truth! But I guess in a movie about such complex characters there will be misinterpretation. I also thinks it hints at stereotypes and bisexual invisibility. Viewers might see Lisbeth in the beginning of the movie and see her with a woman and then assume that she’s a lesbian without considering the possibility that she is actually bi.

  5. I saw the Swedish version a while back and loved it. I wasn’t sure if I was going to like the U.S version but after seeing it, I actually like it better then the Swedish one. The American version had more emotion in it. The last scene was perfect. And Rooney Mara is so so attractive.

  6. I agree with those who feel that Rooney Mara was way better than Noomi. But sometimes whoever you see first (or hear first as in the original hit tune) becomes the standard for you. I saw the Mara version first, then bought the Swedish version after being told “the Swedish version was SO much better” (mostly by those who hadn’t seen either version, btw). The girl in the Swedish version just doesn’t seem to me to be Lisbeth – and that’s how I felt after reading the book. Mara is so much more intense and believable in this role and she becomes Lisbeth Salander just like DeNiro would do. Noomi just seemed to be playing the role – not being it.
    As for looks – while many prefer Noomi’s looks, I prefer Rooney in this role and see her as far more attractive in her own way.
    It’s all about the intensity of the character – which I didn’t really feel in the Swedish version.

  7. ” “Here’s this kickass lady who horrible things have happened to, let’s see what she can do.” The American adaptation seems to say, “I am a mystery movie!” ”

    Lol’d for a good ten minutes there. Your interpretation of the american version just han in implied ‘Duuuuhhhh 0.o” vibe coming off of it >.<

    I look forward to watching the american version, because lets be realistic, it can't be anywhere as bad as twilight. Am I right?

    I got that whole fragile little girl who 'butchered' from the trailer so I'm prepared for the worst :)

  8. Thanks for your review it is great and accurately describes a lot my sentiments about the film. However I felt Rooney’s portrayal to come off a lot more tougher and independent. When she got revenge on your mentor you could see the anger where I just felt pain with Noomi. And when it came to her relationship with Mikael, yes they were warmer towards each other and more intimate in the American version, but I felt there was more respect for her, especially with there being no questions of her ‘killing’ Martin or getting the $50k off him. Anyway, just my opinion, I’ll be reading all the books next :)

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