The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo - The story so far

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo - The story so far

Background on David Fincher adaptation on Stieg Larsson’s Millenium novels

David Fincher’s version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is just the latest story in the overall saga of Stieg Larsson’s Millenium novels, as Eddie Harrison explores

The imminent release of David Fincher’s adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the first in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, is a bona-fide global pop culture event. Larsson’s books have sold over 50 million copies worldwide, and have spawned three internationally popular made-for Swedish TV movies featuring Noomi Rapace as vengeful cyber-terrorist Lisbeth Salander. With serial-killer specialist Fincher (Seven, Zodiac) bringing Salander’s fight for justice to its widest audience yet, the mystery remains: why are readers and cinema-goers alike so in thrall to Larsson’s work? Here’s the story so far.

Originally titled Men Who Hate Women, Larsson’s first book was published after his death in 2004, and features a murder investigation by crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist, publisher of the anti-fascist magazine Millennium. As publisher of a politically similar and equally financially troubled magazine called Expo, Larsson knew his milieu well, and Blomkvist’s investigations are meticulously detailed as they reach national and geo-political heights.

But as the original title suggests, it’s the darker sexual content that has made the Millennium trilogy a publishing phenomenon, embodied by the vengeful figure of Lisbeth Salander, with a shock of dyed-black hair, piercings, motorcycle leathers and her trademark dragon tattoo. Initially engaged to investigate Blomkvist, Salander is introduced in the dubious care of an abusive guardian Nils Bjurman, who repeatedly rapes her. Salander turns the table in grotesque yet crowd-pleasing fashion, brutally sodomising him and tattooing his chest with the words “I am a sadistic pig, a pervert and a rapist’. But Bjurman only the first victim of Salander’s outside-the-law revenge, as she teams up with Blomkvist to cut a swathe through the aging, patriarchal system which allowed her to be abused.

From child-abuse to police and government corruption, the Millennium series is a sensational compendium of modern hot-button topics, allowing the audience to identify with the socially alienated Salander’s ingenious, brutal methods. Larsson playfully likened his heroine to super-sweet children’s character Pippi Longstocking, with her sense of moral justice and superhuman abilities, but Salander is a far darker figure, fuelled by her negative experience of an ugly, male dominated world. (Larsson is said to have named Lisbeth after the victim of a gang-rape that he claimed to have witnessed when he was 15.) Whereas yesterday’s hero James Bond defends the status quo and represents male dominance, Salander is motivated by her unquenchable desire to subvert and destroy masculine regimes.

Casting the current James Bond, Daniel Craig, as Blomkvist neatly indicates that Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo catches a sea-change in sexual politics. Positioning itself as ‘The Feel Bad Movie of Christmas 2011’, Fincher’s adaptation offers a considerably more cinematic and commercial proposition than the somewhat plodding TV version but retains the atmosphere of violent repression and stark, nihilistic vision that have made Larsson’s books so popular.

But mystery continues to shroud the details of Larsson’s own life; the manner of his early death has been the subject of some conjecture, and there’s the ongoing legal battle between his lover of 32 years, Eva Gabrielsson, and Larsson’s father and brother, who are the legal heirs to Larsson’s lucrative estate. Gabrielsson has claimed that this is not what the late author would have wanted, and in a further twist, claimed that she had possession of his laptop, which had the plotlines for several further novels already worked out. Whether she’s yet to make another appearance in print, or will live on in her own cinematic trilogy, it seems unlikely that Lisbeth Salander is finished with us yet.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trailer

The Girl Who Played with Fire

  • 3 stars
  • 2009
  • Sweden
  • 2h 9min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Daniel Alfredson
  • Cast: Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace

With Lisbeth Salander (Rapace) accused of murder, Blomkvist (Nyqvist) works to find out who is really guilty. Kept apart for most of the film, the duo's chemistry isn't given a chance to shine; yet the film is nonetheless engrossing, even if its major revelation is no real surprise.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

  • 4 stars
  • 2011
  • US / Sweden / UK / Germany
  • 2h 37min
  • 18
  • Directed by: David Fincher
  • Cast: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgård, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright, Yorick van Wageningen, Joely Richardson
  • UK release: 26 December 2011

An investigative journalist (Craig) forms an uneasy alliance with a computer hacker (Mara) in an attempt to solve a disappearance. Fincher amps up the dark poetry and Mara exudes a barely suppressed rage in every scene, elevating a populist novel into a compelling (if overlong) drama of bleakness and corruption.