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Film / The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a 2011 Mystery Fiction thriller film directed by David Fincher, based on the novel of the same name by Stieg Larsson. An English-language adaptation of the book, it follows an earlier trilogy of Swedish films (based on Millennium series) that were released throughout 2009. Steven Zallan wrote the screenplay, Tim Miller designed the opening credits and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, returning Fincher collaborators, composed the music.

Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is a Swedish journalist investigating the disappearance of a woman from a wealthy family four decades earlier. When he recruits young hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) to the case, things get decidedly more complicated. Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgård, Steven Berkoff, Joely Richardson and Robin Wright also star.

While the film was a critical hit and received five Academy Award nominations (including a Best Actress nod for Mara and a win for Best Film Editing), it only barely made back its budget. This left the hypothetical continuation of the series with more Millennium installments a Stillborn Franchise. A sequel, The Girl in the Spider's Web, was released in 2018 as a soft reboot, skipping straight to the fourth book in the series and featuring none of the original cast or creative personnel though remaining in the same continuity.

See also The Millennium Trilogy, the first film adaptations of Stieg Larsson's saga, made in Sweden.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade:
    • In both other mediums, Lisbeth leaves Mikael and Sweden on good terms, only after realising that she is in love with Mikael (and, in at least one example, because he's in prison). In this film, she is about to give him an elaborate Christmas present when she sees him with Erika, which leads to her believing he devalued their relationship and doesn't care about her. She takes off devastated.
    • Interesting example. Harriet manages to Earn Your Happy Ending in the book and film, as she has a family. In this film, she has no-one and seems extremely isolated and unhappy.
  • Adaptational Dye-Job: It follows the Swedish films as Harriet has blonde hair, which she never dyes. Harriet of the book had dark hair that she dyed blonde.
  • Adaptational Early Appearance: Joel Kinnaman has a cameo that was supposed to be this for The Girl who Played With Fire, but it never came about.
  • Adaptation Explanation Extrication:
    • Lisbeth's hostility towards Harriet is not explained in this film, nor is her motivation for setting her father on fire. That was probably a Sequel Hook for The Girl who Played With Fire, which didn't happen.
    • A key piece of evidence in the story is a code referring to The Bible: the Book of Leviticus, Chapter 1, verse 14. The problem is, the actual passage being referred to is verses 14 and 15; a fake Bible had to be printed which combines the two sentences into one. (The source material refers instead to the 12th verse, which is self-contained but is less picturesque.)
  • A Dog Named "Dog": Blomkvist refers to the cat solely as "Cat". (In total fairness, he does the same thing in the book — even after being informed that her name is Tjorven.)
  • Age Cut: Used to transition from scenes of Inspector Morell in The '60s (David Dencik) to Inspector Morell in the present day (Donald Sumpter). Also includes a Match Cut: the younger Morell lights a cigarette; the older one takes a drag from it.
  • Age Lift: Upon her casting, Rooney Mara was older than Lisbeth is in the first book.
  • Alone with the Psycho: The American movie plays the scene almost exactly as in the book, then making it even worse when Mikael actually manages to get out of the house, then comes back in when Martin offers him a drink. Martin himself points out Mikael's foolishness.
  • Ass Shove: Lisbeth does this to her social worker when she rapes him, as payback for what he did to her. She even kicks the toy up there.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Lisbeth's rescue of Mikael at the hands of Martin Vanger.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: The Vanger dynasty. Most of them were either corrupt executives, Nazis, perverts or serial killers.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Lisbeth realizes she's fallen in love with Mikael, and decides to tell him. She buys him a beautiful leather jacket as a Christmas present, and on the way to give it to him, sees him leaving his apartment with his part-time lover Erika. She then tosses the present in a dumpster and rides away. On the other hand, a horrible serial murderer and rapist has been brought to justice and a long-suffering uncle has been reunited with the niece he thought was dead for thirty years. Also, Wennerström will never be a threat to anyone else again and Lisbeth is now a billionaire.
  • Blinding Camera Flash: Several in the flashbacks of Harriet at the Children's Day parade, and in the trailer.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: The reason Harriet ran away was to get away from her brother Martin, who was raping her.
  • Casting Gag:
    • David Fincher cast Daniel Craig (perhaps best known for being James Bond at that point) as Mikael. The gag would have paid off in the third film, when Mikael spends the entire novel playing spy games vs. "The Section."
    • This trope is subverted in the movie adaptation. In the books, Mikael's sex life is no big deal. In the films, it is apparently front page material for not only tabloids but rival newspapers.
  • Cat Scare: Very subtly done. Upon returning to the cottage after spending the weekend back in Stockholm, Mikael finds the stray cat he's been feeding wandering around and wonders aloud how it got into the house, seeing as he left all the doors and windows locked, thus implying that someone's been snooping around. Later, when the cat is brutally killed and left outside the house, it's clearly meant as a warning to him.
  • Clear My Name: Mikael's reason for taking the Vanger job; Henrik claims he'll give Mikael evidence that proves his innocence if he does. Too bad it's a bluff, which Mikael finds out after finding Harriet. The good news is that Lisbeth is able to pick up Henrik's slack with her hacking skills.
  • Color Wash: Flashbacks to the day of Harriet's disappearance are mostly in an amber glow.
  • Composite Character: Interestingly intentional and plot-relevant case. When we meet Harriet's cousin Anita in London, it's not much of a surprise, as that's where she lives in the book, too, before it's revealed that she's covering for Harriet, who is living out in Australia. Then it's revealed that not only did Harriet assume Anita's identity but, as in the Swedish film, Anita has actually died beforehand. Fincher melded the position of book-Anita with that of the Swedish film's Harriet in his Harriet.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Blomkvist visits Inspector Morell with Harriet's journal to ask about the five-digit numbers in the back, each associated with a woman's name. Inspector Morell dismisses them as old Swedish telephone numbers. Literally two lines later, he segues into his "Rebecka Case," jargon for That One Case which was so brutal (the woman was decapitated, had her arms chopped off, and was badly burned) that the officer is haunted to this day. Rebecka Jacobsson is "R.J.," one of the numbers Morell had dismissed not 15 seconds earlier, and the 5-digit code turns out to be a cipher for a Bible book, chapter and verse: 30114 meaning the Book of Leviticus (the 3rd book), chapter 01, verse 14. Downplayed in that Blomkvist isn't able to make sense of the evidence for another half-hour of run-time.
  • Conveniently Empty Roads: When Lisbeth chases a fleeing Martin, there's no traffic whatsoever. Justified, since the chase takes place on a fairly remote forest road at night. The same is true of the Swedish film.
  • Convenient Photograph: Mikael manages to find a photograph of Harriet taken at the Children's Day parade. He then just so happens to find someone with a camera on the other side of the street who just so happened to keep the photograph that showed who she saw.
  • Creepy Basement: Martin's kill room, so, so much.
  • Dead Animal Warning: Mikael Blomquist bonds with a cat while staying at the Vanger estate. He wakes up one morning to find the villain has killed the cat and left its mutilated remains on his doorstep.
  • The Dead Guy Did It: Lisbeth and Mikael are looking into Harriet's diary and her mysterious entries, which they link to a series of murders that happened throughout the 1960s. It turns out that the perpetrator of these were Harriet's dead father, Gottfried, who drowned drunkenly the year before Harriet's disappearance and couldn't have been involved with it. It turns out to have been a Two Dun It case where Harriet and her older brother Martin were sexually abused by Gotffried and inducted into the serial killings. When Harriet killed Gottfried in self defence after he raped her and Martin, Martin "took over" Gottfried's role and continued killing.
  • Death by Adaptation: As in the Swedish film, Anita is killed off before the events of the film.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Happens to Lisbeth toward the end. At least until the Ship Sinking moment.
  • Depraved Bisexual: This film retains the book's plot point that Martin planned to rape Mikael after abducting him, though he admits it's not his usual type, so it may be he's not actually bisexual.
  • Design Student's Orgasm: The opening credits. So, so much.
  • Did Not Get The Guy: Just when it seems the movie will end on an unambiguously optimistic note, Lisbeth sees Mikael walking away happily with Erika. She throws away the gift she bought for him and drives off on her bike, alone. Roll credits.
  • Distressed Dude: Mikael Blomkvist is captured by the serial killer, locked in an underground torture room, chained, stripped naked, humiliated and explicitly threatened with rape, when Salander breaks in to save him, chase and destroy the villain. A precise gender mirror image of the classic Damsel in Distress tropes.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: David Fincher confirmed that Joel Kinnaman was meant to come back for the sequel. (His character, Christer Malm, is in the first book, but has almost no plot relevance and is appropriately reduced to about one line when compressing 672 pages into 153 minutes.note ) Likewise, Bengt Carlsson (Holder Palmgren), Embeth Davidtz (Annika Blomkvist Giannini) and Élodie Yung (Miriam Wu) appear in this film so that their importance in the next two wasn't going to be a case of Remember the New Guy?. Too bad the trilogy stalled.
  • Exact Words: Henrik Vanger promised he could disclose Wennerström's past deeds for Mikael to publish. He kept his word, but only turns over materials that happened decades before and can't be prosecuted due to the statute of limitations.
  • Eye Scream: The opening credits include a lit match falling onto Daniel Craig's eye, and later a fly hatching out of it.
  • Fat Bastard: Extremely obvious example as Bjurman is thin or at least average build in every other version, but very overweight here, and treated as disgusting even before he violently rapes Lisbeth.
  • Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse: Lisbeth dismisses Mikael's sympathy towards Martin Vanger, a Serial Rapist and Killer, saying that even though Martin was also raped by his father, he had every opportunity to choose a different path, and did what he did because he enjoyed it. She compares this to her own background: she was abused by her father as well, and is raped by her court-appointed guardian in the book, but she fought back against her abusersnote  instead of lashing out at innocent bystanders.
    Lisbeth: Gottfried isn't the only kid who was ever mistreated. That doesn't give him the right to murder women. He made that choice himself. And the same is true of Martin.
  • Friendly Enemies: Like every good murder-mystery villain, the Big Bad comes across as affable by helping Mikael hunt down Harriet's killer. This is because, though the character is the Big Bad, they didn't kill Harriet, and are genuinely hoping Blomkvist can figure out what happened to her. Only when it becomes clear that Mikael has 1) not cracked her murder and 2) has cracked the villain's murders does the villain decide to off our hero.
  • Gambit Pileup: the ultimate result of the case. Herr Vanger presents it as a Locked Room Mystery: his grand-niece Harriet disappeared on 24 September 1966, and because an Absence of Evidence (namely, her corpse) rules out any other option, he has concluded that someone in the locked room murdered her and hid her body. The result is much more complicated: Harriet was the victim of sexual assault by her father Gottfried. She solved this by taking advantage of his alcoholic nature to Make It Look Like an Accident... only to jump from the frying pan and into the fire of Brother–Sister Incest from her brother Martin. Upon realizing he still had power over her, she simply escaped. When Henrik investigated her disappearance, he ruled out the idea of a Death Faked for You because, to his knowledge, she had no friends who could help her do so. He was wrong. 36 years later, in sails Mikael Blomkvist, who starts on one mystery (Harriet's disappearance), gets sidetracked by the other (the fact that Gottfried, in addition to raping his daughter, was a Serial Killer) and is thrown off by even more complications (Gottfried died in 1964 but his son Martin became a Legacy Character continuing the tradition), not returning to the original until the second has been resolved.
  • Glasses Pull: Mikael does a pretty good one when looking at the parade photos and realizing that Harriet saw something that frightened her.
  • Golf Clubbing: Lisbeth attacks Martin with one of his golf clubs, whereas in every other medium she uses a different weapon.
  • Goth Spirals: This Lisbeth wears spiral earrings and jewelry all the time.
  • Guile Heroes: Lisbeth is good at getting ridiculous amounts of info and getting the drop on people. Mikael is good at organizing and has his own respected media outlet to put her info in. When they team up to expose Wennerström, the combination proves unbeatable.
  • Hackette: Lisbeth.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Blomkvist becomes this due to retribution from Wennestrom.
  • Hidden Villain: The serial killer Martin Vanger.
  • In-Joke: All the characters say Lisbeth's name with English pronunciation, "Liz-bith" or "Liz-beth". But toward the end of the movie when Martin learns her name, he says it with Swedish pronunciation as "Leez-bet," which makes sense seeing as Martin is played by Stellan Skarsgård, the only actual Swede to have a major role in the movie.
  • Karmic Death:
    • Gottfried Vanger, drowned by Harriet, the girl he'd been raping for several years.
    • Martin gets this in the movie, when Lisbeth walks away and leaves him to burn. This ties into his comment about how all his victims thought he would spare them, only to have their hopes brutally crushed. In short, he's denied the same mercy he denied his victims.
  • Kick the Dog: Blomkvist's pet cat is discarded at his front door by the killer, beheaded and dismembered.
  • Lonely at the Top: How Lisbeth ends the film. She's brought Wennerström to justice, and has siphoned two billion euros from his accounts to become the richest woman in Sweden, but the last note of her character is the heartbreak she feels from seeing Mikael back together with Erika, after which she drives off into the night, completely alone.
  • Magical Security Cam: Averted. Lisbeth sets up several night-vision cameras at one point, all placed in plausible locations. It also looks like those actual cameras were used to film their POV shots, instead of simulating them with film cameras and digital effects.
  • May–December Romance: Mikael and Lisbeth's short-lived relationship.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: Investigating the disappearance of one rich heiress -> family of serial killers
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Daniel Craig is the only actor to make no attempt at a Swedish accent, instead retaining his natural English one.
  • Not the First Victim: As they investigate Harriet Vanger's disappearance, Lisbeth discovers a string of victims leading up to it that were not previously connected. Then subverted. While Harriet's brother and father were/are serial killers, Harriet is not a victim and she escaped from Martin.
  • Oh, Crap!: Lisbeth's reaction after seeing Mikael, who knows that she hacked his computer, at her house. However, Mikael isn't looking for any kind of payback, but for her help instead.
  • Parental Incest: Gottfried to Martin and Harriet.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Arguably the thesis of the film, down to one of its taglines being "Evil shall with evil be expelled."
    • Lisbeth's treatment of Bjurman is so harsh that it borders on Moral Event Horizon. But it was so precise and ingenious that it could qualify as a Moment of Awesome: rather than killing the man, Lisbeth opted to make Bjurman suffer the exact same abuse he put her through, up to every little detail, including the rape and the blackmail, just to make him realize how it felt. However, leaving Bjurman alive left him free to make new plans against her, which might have ended very badly.
      • It probably would have if the trilogy continued; Bjurman's seeking revenge on Lisbeth is what jump-starts the plot of the next two books.
  • Pet the Dog: Lisbeth visits her previous social worker throughout the film and is shown taking care of him.
  • Plot-Based Photograph Obfuscation: The photograph of the Children's Day parade that shows a blurred-out face watching Harriet.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: A much stronger example of this than the Swedish one, retaining much more of the novel's depth and detail while running only six minutes longer than the latter. Notably included in this version but cut from the previous one are the bulk of the Wennerström subplot, Blomkvist's daughter, the original Vanger family configuration, and a fair amount of screen time for Erika Berger. Anita's still dead though.
  • Precision F-Strike: Mikael does one when he goes outside for a cigarette and sees the dead cat on the doorstep, it broken limbs shaped like a swastika. A later shot shows him trying not to be sick.
  • Pretending to Be One's Own Relative: The ending reveals that Anita Vanger is actually Harriet Vanger, who ran away from home with her cousin Anita's help forty years ago. While Anita went under her married name, Harriet used Anita's maiden name to start a new life. When Mikael came looking for her to help her find Harriet, real Harriet pretended to be the only Anita.
  • Product Placement:
    • The film features the characters' MacBooks quite prominently — though really it would feature whichever brand of computer they used prominently given the nature of the story. All versions, including the novels, are very specific about Macs anyway.
    • For the nerdier types, the actual placement of Macs in the film is rather strange. The exact timeline of the film isn't clear, but it's either a present-day OS (Tiger, circa 2005) running on computers from the future (the unibody MacBook Pros from 2008, which came with Leopard), or computers of today running an OS from several years before they came out.
    • McDonald's is also plainly visible, as Lisbeth enjoys chowing down on Happy Meals, even while staying at a posh luxury hotel.
  • Promotion to Parent: Lisbeth's kind social worker has very little of a role in every other adaptation except this one, where he appears to be her surrogate father.
  • Rape and Revenge: Lisbeth's advocate Nils Bjurman lures her to his apartment, where he sodomizes her with a sex toy, rapes and tortures her, then orders her to come back a week later. She does so, but stunguns, ties up and sodomizes him, then tattoos "I am a rapist" on his chest and stomach. She also tells him that she recorded his assault on her, and that he will be doing exactly what she says from now on, or he'll be going to jail for a very long time.
  • Rape as Drama: It happens to Harriet and Martin Vanger, and Lisbeth.
  • Rape Leads to Insanity: Although Lisbeth does respond aggressively to being raped, this trope is most evident in this film for Martin, as the script maintains that he was also raped by his father, which leads him to being unsure about raping Mikael in the basement.
  • The Rich Have White Stuff: Although subverted by every other Vanger, CEO Martin has a very beautiful white house full of minimalistic white possessions. And a white torture cellar.
  • Red Herring: When it's discovered that Harriet was keeping notes on the deaths of other young women, it's assumed that whoever killed the other women killed Harriet to keep her silent. Once it's discovered Martin was the killer, Mikael confronts him about Harriet, but he had no idea what happened to her either. Turns out Harriet was still alive, going into hiding to keep Martin from killing her.
  • The Reveal: Anita Cochran, CEO of a large Australian conglomerate, is actually Harriet Vanger under an assumed identity.
  • Roaring Rampage of Rescue: When Lisbeth rescues Mikael from Martin.
  • Searching for the Lost Relative: Henrik (and to a lesser extent, Martin) have never stopped looking for his great-niece/his sister, Harriet, who disappeared 40 years ago. She is discovered to have run away after Gottfried and Martin raped her, and is eventually reunited with Henrik after Martin's death.
  • Serial Killer: Martin Vanger.
  • Sinister Suffocation: This is suggested to be one of the serial killer Martin Vanger's favorite techniques due to ageing and that the victims are usually younger and stronger than him. He knocks out Mikael with gas and then tortures him by putting a bag over his head.
  • Softer and Slower Cover: It would probably not apply in most other contexts, but Karen O's version of "Immigrant Song" over the opening credits is slower and softer than Led Zeppelin's original.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: In-universe, as Martin likes putting on Enya during his murders — reportedly, on Daniel Craig's suggestion.
    "Sail away, sail away, sail awaaaay..."
  • Spotlight-Stealing Squad: Unlike the Swedish films, this one keeps its two protagonists on a more equal footing.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Being in pain - say, the pain of being hit in the head with a golf club - is very likely to screw up your reaction time and cause you to drive unsafely, among other things.
  • Symbolic Glass House: Martin Vanger's mansion is a notable exception from the rest of his family's properties for being white, very minimalist, and modern in contrast to their old houses. The irony is that Martin is the person with the most secrets, being a serial rapist and murderer who has a Torture Cellar in his house and has been operating in secret for decades. He takes pleasure in telling Mikael that the "wind" sounds he and Erika heard earlier in the story were actually the screams of his prior victim.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The second trailer is a loose summary of the entire story with the exception of the two really big plot twists (Martin and Harriet.)
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: As with the source material, the main characters don't even team up until (in this case) 75 minutes of a 160-minute movie have passed.