Go See The Girl With the Dragon TattooThe Swedish title, Män som hatar kvinnor, translates as “Men Who Hate Women”. Somewhere along the line the title for the English translation of the wildly popular, bestselling novel was changed to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

It’s this difference in how stories are packaged in Sweden vs. North America that’s making me insist you go see this Swedish version of the story*. Hollywood is making a version too; it’s slated for release in 2012. But I can’t imagine how Hollywood won’t end up making a movie more about a tattoo than about men who hate women.

My friend Michelle introduced me to the book last summer. I was sitting in her living room and she raved about it something like this, “Kim, you have to read this. It’s not a genre you usually read [crime/mystery], but you have to. For this book has the most kick-ass female protagonist EVAR.”

I read it in three days.

It’s a very good novel, worthy of international craze. But here’s what sets it apart, and this is why you should see the Swedish movie:

Alongside the gripping whodunit is a powerful portrayal of sexual violence. The entire story really is about men who hate women, and who, in their hatred, beat, rape and psychologically abuse them. It’s about how disgusting it all is. And it’s about women fighting back. And it’s about one woman, in particular, who’s like no other woman I’ve encountered in fiction in any medium. And this woman should remain uncompromised when she’s portrayed, just as she was brilliantly portrayed in the Swedish film.

I don’t think Hollywood can do this story justice. Not when the Swedes have already created the best film adaptation of a book I’ve ever seen. There shouldn’t be focus groups influencing the making of this film. There shouldn’t be a toning-down of the sexual violence to attain a more box-office-friendly MPAA rating. There shouldn’t be a glossing-over of the subtleties of the relationships between characters because there’s an industry perception that Americans can’t handle ambiguity and non-comformity.

Män som hatar kvinnor, which came out last year in Europe, was the highest-grossing film in Swedish history and was 2009’s top-grossing film in all of Europe. It isn’t a “small” film. It isn’t an “art” film. It’s a blockbuster. It’s a blockbuster with graphic scenes of sexual violence without sexualization. It’s a blockbuster where the female protagonist saves the male protagonist’s ass, and it’s not an issue. It’s a blockbuster without glossy hair.

I think it’s dumb that the North American publisher felt the need to change the name of the novel. But at least that’s all that was changed – the story inside was unaltered. A film adaptation, though, now that’s a different story. A film adaptation that really does become a story about a girl with a dragon tattoo will be a shame. A real shame.

Even if you hate “foreign” movies and you can’t stand subtitles, make an exception for this film. And do it fast, as I fear it won’t last long in North American theatres.

* I can only speak to North-American cinema; I’d love to hear from English-speakers from the rest of the world about this!

27 responses to “Go See The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”

  1. Erin Avatar

    Going to see this movie tonight. Now if only my husband would give me back my copy of The Girl Who Played with Fire…

  2. skamama Avatar

    I don't understand. I've started the book and their are pages upon pages upon pages about some corporate finance scheme. It's mind numbing frankly. This doesn't sound at all like the book I've started reading but it has the same title.

  3. Kim Werker Avatar

    Ok, yes. There's also that bit about the corporate finance scheme. That's
    boring, agreed. But if you stick with it, you'll get to the gripping parts,
    I promise.

  4. skamama Avatar

    Okay, Kim. I'll trust you….for now. Back to mind numbing finance anecdote.

  5. Kim Werker Avatar

    Side note: I didn't love the second book in the series as much as I loved
    the first. In part because I don't love the mind-numbing corporate-finance
    bits, and there were *a lot* of those in the second book.

  6. Caroline Avatar

    Loved loved loved the book. Yes, the first bit about corporate-finance had me second guessing the rave reviews, but it all comes together in the end. Can't wait to see the movie…though living in the sticks, I may have to wait until it comes out on DVD.

  7. Annette Avatar

    The female characters in this book (haven't seen the movie yet) are all fabulous. In fact, reading the male author's portrayal of them is what made me realize that years and years of work on gender equality has really changed the Swedish society profoundly, not just on the surface.

  8. Kim Werker Avatar

    I'm so glad to hear my admittedly idealized impression of, shall we say, a
    “Swedish worldview” is at least in part a reality. :)

  9. futuregirl Avatar

    I hate to break it to you, but the “industry perception that Americans can’t handle ambiguity and non-conformity” is based on Americans' inability to handle ambiguity and non-conformity. :) Just spend a little time reading movie reviews on Netflix (although I don't recommend it and I never will again – the reviews of Surveillance almost drove me insane). If anything is left to the imagination, if anything is not tied up in a little bow, if anything hints that the world is not a big happy shiny place where all of God's creatures live in harmony, people lose their minds. People do not want to be challenged. People do not want to be uncomfortable. People do not want to think.

    Luckily, not EVERYONE in North America is like that. Certainly you, me, our friends, possibly our families, and the people who write the books we love, make the movies we enjoy, and perform the music we like to listen to feel differently. And thank heavens for that! :)

    p.s. AMAZING movie! Loved it!

  10. futuregirl Avatar

    Oh, and the professional, critical reviews of Antichrist … were mind boggling. Seriously. ugh.

  11. knitgrrl Avatar

    I LOVED the book, and reading this will now make me go see the movie, because you're generally dead on with the recommendations, Kim. I have to say I was mildly disappointed with the film adaptation of Let the Right One In (another highly unsettling Swedish book/movie of recent months). Have you read The Girl Who Played with Fire yet? (I have the third on preorder and I'm ITCHING to get it).

  12. knitgrrl Avatar

    Also: p.s., an interesting article on Nordic crime fiction from the Economist (I know, I laughed, too — but when you've sold this many books, well…)


  13. Kim Werker Avatar

    I didn't know Let the Right One In is a book! I didn't love the movie, but I
    bet I'd love the book. Imma hafta add it to my list.

    I did read the 2nd Millenium book. I didn't love it as much as Dragon
    Tattoo, which could be because I read it immediately after finishing the
    first. Still, I'm sure I'll end up getting the hardcover of the third when
    it comes out next month.

  14. Kim Werker Avatar

    I didn't know Let the Right One In is a book! I didn't love the movie, but I
    bet I'd love the book. Imma hafta add it to my list.

    I did read the 2nd Millenium book. I didn't love it as much as Dragon
    Tattoo, which could be because I read it immediately after finishing the
    first. Still, I'm sure I'll end up getting the hardcover of the third when
    it comes out next month.

  15. Michelle Avatar

    SK and I saw the movie last night and I'm writing about it now, and linking to you because you say everything I would've. Absolutely NO WAY will the American remake of this movie be nearly as good, and not just because on the whole our country prefers things to be black and white. Our take on history is vastly different, and as Annette mentioned we're lightyears behind Sweden in terms of gender equity.

    And I listened to the audiobook of “The Girl Who Played With Fire,” and I think that was the way to go. It sort of reminded me of the second season of The Wire.

  16. Kim Werker Avatar

    Mm. I see the likeness to The Wire. Which might be why I didn't love the
    book entirely – I might be the only over-educated, literate, urban American
    in the world who just doesn't think The Wire is brilliant.

    I'll look for your post!

  17. Johnny B Avatar
    Johnny B

    Hey Kim. Just read the book – which means I may actually be making an appearance at this month's book club (!) – and just saw the film. As someone with keen interest in literary adaptations, I have to respectfully disagree with you that the filmmakers did a good job, and I have to also respectfully question your assumption that Hollywood is going to make a worse film.

    I certainly enjoyed the book, on two levels – I thought it was a sensationally satisfying piece of genre fiction, featuring two fantastic lead characters, with a terrific journalistic attention to detail … all in the service of exploring some very troubling themes indeed. I certainly didn't enjoy the film, though – I found the acting, directing, editing and design all very flat, and even at a sluggish two and half hours, it still managed to oversimplify just about everything about the story (the plot, the subplots, the characters, their backstories). It also relied more heavily on tedious exposition, cliched time-lapse montages, pointless cross-cutting, lame action sequences and painfully obvious and melodramatic music than most Hollywood films or TV series. By the time Mikael & Lisbeth were together hitting the road, investigating cold cases, checking out old crime scenes and looking at old autopsy photos (none of which action was in the book) I felt like I was watching CSI: Sweden. I agree that Mikael & Lisbeth weren't “glossy” as portrayed – you never see leads with hair or skin like that in Hollywood films, I admit – but the film itself was plenty glossy, a fairly straightforward actioner that actually attempted a kind of glossiness that it couldn't really afford (the production values were pretty average overall). And while I'm not suggesting that the film didn't attempt to take woman-hating seriously, I am suggesting that its depiction of women as either innocent, pretty victims, or babe-a-licious avenging angels, was in terms of style and substance not substantially different from anything on American prime-time television these days (or in a Quentin Tarantino movie, for that matter). (An aside: Lisbeth, for all her originality, remains something of fantasy object – a brilliant, childlike, bisexual punk hottie, a character created by an overweight fiftysomething journalist, who not coincidentally the overweight fiftysomething journalist protagonist of the book gets to have lots of NSA sex with, all of which I think somewhat undermines the feminist power of the enterprise (but only somewhat).) I know firsthand how hard it is to make a film about the objectification of women that doesn't also objectify women, and I didn't get any sense of the filmmakers grappling with this difficulty, especially with what they chose as the last scene of the film (which I think got the corresponding chapter in the book 100% wrong, both in terms of story and theme).

    Steve Zaillan (who wrote Schindler's List and Searching For Bobby Fischer, two exemplary literary adaptations, in my opinion) is writing for Columbia Pictures, and David Fincher is directing. Among other films (some brilliant, some terrible), DF directed Zodiac – in my opinion, also an exemplary literary adaptation and one of the best films about violence against women ever made. I don't think SZ and DF could make a more “Hollywood” film than their Swedish counterparts if they tried, but I don't think they *will* try, and I don't see any reason why they can't make a better movie. At least let me buy you your ticket and popcorn when it comes out. :)

  18. Kim Werker Avatar

    Hey John. I expected nothing less than your total disagreement. :)

  19. Linda Taylor Avatar
    Linda Taylor

    The movie didn't objectify Lisbeth…she objectified herself, or rather Michael (to some extent) to deal with her pain. Healthy? No. Satisfying? Yeah to some extent, if you are female. I'll give Hollywood a chance…I did love “Searching for Bobby Fischer.”

  20. Johnny B Avatar
    Johnny B

    So in other words it would have saved us both time if I'd just written “I totally disagree”? :)

  21. Kim Werker Avatar

    Ha! No, I love the length and energy in your total disagreement.

  22. Johnny B Avatar
    Johnny B

    So in other words it would have saved us both time if I'd just written “I totally disagree”? :)

  23. Kim Werker Avatar

    Ha! No, I love the length and energy in your total disagreement.

  24.  Avatar

    Haven’t read this series or watched the movies, but your comments about the novel and it’s premise made me think to recommend another two novels to you. Please check out Jose Saramago’s Blindness and Seeing (or in Portuguese: Ensaio sobre a cegueira, meaning Essay on Blindness and Ensaio sobre a Lucidez, lit. Essay on Lucidity). There is a movie version of the first one, but I haven’t seen it so I can’t say whether it is worth checking out or not.

    1. Kim Werker Avatar

      Blindness is one of my favourite novels. I was cautioned to skip
      Seeing, since I found Blindness to be so perfect.

      Have you read The Road, by Cormac McCarthy? It too approaches perfection.

  25. K Lever Avatar

    I don’t get people who won’t watch subtitled movies – they miss out on so much culture!

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