Yeah, don’t read this if you haven’t seen any of the versions of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (TGWTDT) and want to. This will kind of ruin it for you.
Now, I like David Fincher (Director of Fight Club, Panic Room, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, etc), and I’ve never really analyzed his directing style before. But after seeing the original version of TGWTDT, I couldn’t help but evaluate the choices he made in his remake, especially with Lisbeth’s character arc. Check out Sean’s post on how David Fincher took an un-feminist approach to a feminist story. For the most part, I agree with Sean, but I’ll take it a step further and say that David Fincher didn’t understand the Lisbeth character, which is why he failed to adequately portray her. He understands contemporary American cinematic storytelling, for sure. But if he really knew the Lisbeth character, he wouldn’t have followed Hollywood conventions on this one.
The movie makes it clear that Lisbeth is a troubled girl with a wretched past. The gruesome part is that she continues to experience abuse (getting robbed, getting raped, etc). She must deal with solving the case of a serial killer, all the while dealing with her continual abuse in society. She’s been declared insane by the state, and we see how it is warranted (namely, her reactions to the abuses she faces). So, why doesn’t Fincher take this into consideration with the Lisbeth and Mikael relationship arc? I don’t know, but either he was trying to follow the book’s conclusion, or he was following the Hollywood norm. In either case, it didn’t work well with the rest of the film.
In Fincher’s 3rd act, Lisbeth grows increasingly closer to Mikael. She buys him an expensive gift but is forced to throw it away after she sees he has returned to his former lover, Berger. I haven’t read the book, but I know that he does return with Berger, and Lisbeth leaves town because of it. I have a feeling, however, that it was more fleshed out in writing than it was in the American version of the film. For me, Fincher didn’t give her character enough space to evolve from an emotionally unattached troubled female to an emotionally needy one. One can argue that Lisbeth was needy when she basically threw herself at Mikael the first time they had sex, but that was hardly an emotional effect. I saw it as Lisbeth’s need to feel in control in the bedroom after having suffered a loss of power through rape. She associates vulnerability in the bedroom with rape, and the only way she can move past that is if she remains in control—in the one place where it was stripped from her. This is also why (and I agree with Sean here) Mikael getting on top of Lisbeth (instead of keeping it like in the Swedish version, where Lisbeth is always on top) negates the control she desires—and needs. So I think Fincher failed to see what Lisbeth’s troubles meant to her in the present moment and how it affected everything she did. In the Swedish version, Lisbeth’s last embrace with Mikael is when she kisses him and walks away awkwardly. It’s so fitting to her character, and there wasn’t enough time to delve into what that would mean later on for their relationship. In Fincher’s case, we don’t see her evolving, so we shouldn’t see the resolution to something so integral to her characterization.
A character so rich…
P.S. The American version IS good. I just have issues with the weak ending and the weak portrayal of such a powerful character as Lisbeth. The Swedish film is much better. There, Lisbeth has one of the best characterizations I’ve ever seen in a movie. It’s so rich, and all of her actions were motivated, something Fincher’s version missed. Every move she made was based on the type of person she is. I absolutely loved Rooney Mara’s performance, though. I understand why the film itself wasn’t nominated for best picture, but Rooney was. Her subtleties definitely brought the Lisbeth character to life.