Why is this called “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”? You don’t see Lisbeth’s (Noomi Rapace) back art until around halfway through the movie, and it’s not like anyone cares. She’s more recognized for her piercings or the black clothes she wears. This movie is a story about hacking, detective work, and sexual violence, not Lisbeth’s appearance. So let me propose a new title: Hackers. Oh wait…
Based on the novel by Stieg Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first film in a trilogy released in Sweden in 2009. All three movies were released that year, so I was pleasantly surprised how self-contained this film was, a quality I would bet, drawing on my experience watching trilogies that were made in one go, the second one doesn’t have. Of course, in 2011 David Fincher made his own adaptation for American audiences and didn’t end up doing the sequels, so maybe this first one just has that quality.
Surveillance and security expert Lisbeth Salander is hired by wealthy old man Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) to investigate Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), a publisher of “Millennium” magazine who just received a prison sentence for libel over reporting on another evil billionaire. Lisbeth says Mikael is pretty clean and was probably set up, so Vanger hires Mikael to spend his last six months for freedom investigating the disappearance of Vanger’s niece forty years ago.
Mikael quickly starts to suspect Vanger’s hunch that it was one of his many evil relatives that committed the crime is correct, but has a hard time sorting through so many leads, so many years after the crime supposedly happened. Meanwhile, Lisbeth has her own problems when she is appointed a new legal guardian, Nils Bjurman (Peter Andersson), after her previous one has a stroke. Bjurman is a sick motherfucker who quickly seizes control of Lisbeth’s finance and then threatens and rapes her. Nonetheless, Lisbeth still finds herself drawn to Mikael’s investigation, continuing to monitor his progress through a backdoor to his laptop.
Despite having totally avoided the Millenium series up until today, I found this film immediately felt somewhat familiar. I think it’s because it reminds me of Mr. Robot, a TV show with a main character who has a lot in common with Lisbeth. Most people compare that show to Fight Club, which really makes sense, but Elliot, like Lisbeth, works at a security firm, has social issues, and uses superior hacking skills to enact vigilante justice. Also, that show, like this movie, provides a practical, realistic depiction of computer work, which I always appreciate.
The disturbing mystery of Vanger’s niece’s disappearance is compelling on its own, but the movie tries to make this a bigger story about violence against women by also including the stuff with Lisbeth’s legal guardian. That part… it’s tough. The movie shows Lisbeth get raped twice (plus she fights off another attempted gang rape) and hints that she also has domestic abuse in her past. It makes her revenge all the more satisfying, I guess, and definitely makes it clear why she’s so motivated to stop these men who hurt women. But yikes, those are some intense scenes. It seems to be my lot in Shocktober to always pick a sexual violence movie – where’s my trigger warning!