CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS
Ok, so here is a quick question for you. Is there anyone out there who has seen either version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo without having read the book first? If so, did you actually understand what was going on?
My adventures with Lisbeth Salander started with the original book, I then moved onto Fincher’s screen version before finally finishing with the original Swedish film. I loved the book and devoured it in only a few sittings. I loved the raw power and determination of Lisbeth, which when coupled with the sheer single bloodymindness of Mikael Blomkvist was a potent, unstoppable force. I admit I found the plot reasonably complicated in parts mainly due to the complexities (for want of a better word) of the Vanger family tree, Lisbeth’s back story and just what the hell had actually happened to to poor Harriet. However Steig Larsson guided the reader through this maze in comfortable fashion and when you got to the inevitable ‘what Vanger are we talking about now’ you could always flip back a couple of pages and catch up.
Therefore, it was with some excitement that I sat back to watch Fincher’s version. By the end of the film, I was slightly uncertain about what I thought. At first I thought I had I really enjoyed it, but there was a nagging doubt at the back of my mind. It wasn’t the actors performances as Rooney Mara was simply astonishing as Lisbeth, fully deserving of her Oscar nod and Daniel Craig brought a certain ruggedness and depth to Mikael that proved again that there is more to him than simply Bond. It wasn’t the direction as whilst not Fincher at his best, it was still visually very appealing. So what was left?
To ponder this some more I turned to the script and it was here that my nagging doubt found a home. There is no doubt that Larssons’s story is a complicated one and hard to fit into a comfortable viewing time. Screenwriters just simply don’t have the luxury of open ended time that novelists do. And a lack of time is clearly evident in the screenplay. The complications within the story which had been so deftly handled by Larsson, are simply not given the time they deserve or arguably need, so leaving the audience struggling to keep up. Great swathes of the back story and the history of each character seem to go by in a blink of an eye and vitally important plot points feel extremely rushed, occasionally crow-barred in and often delivered through pretty forced sounding dialogue. However when I watched the film the first time, none of this really bothered me. Why was this? Had my previous knowledge of the plot smoothed over these writing issues without my knowledge, so actually giving a false level of enjoyment?
It was with this thought firmly in mind that Mrs Malone and I snuggled up on the couch on Saturday night with Fincher’s version, for the good lady’s first ever introduction to Lisbeth. It took less than 2 minutes into the film for my suspicions to be proved correct. Mrs Malone (who has five degrees so is pretty good at figuring stuff out) reached out for the pause button to ask the first of many questions. This happened nigh on ten times throughout the film before eventually arriving at ‘which bloody Vanger are they talking about now’? Suffice to say this spoilt the show somewhat. We couldn’t simply go back a few pages and read it again, as the information on the screen was so slight, it wouldn’t have mattered how many times you repeated it.
Therefore at the end we walked away with two distinct different experiences. Mrs Malone was confused, cheated and even a little bit cross whilst I still found myself fully caught up in Lisbeth’s world, despite what had been on the screen. I realised I was experiencing and enjoying the combination of the book and the film together, Mrs Malone was just stuck with the film.
Would our experiences have been more aligned if I had come to film cold? I simply don’t know as I cannot forget that I have read the book, but I would like to hear from others than can. So I return to my original question. Is there anyone out there who watched either version of the film without reading the book, and did they understand what was going on?
Answers on a postcard, or in the comments section below.
If you liked The Girl in the Dragon Tattoo, then try The Combined Strengths of Gone Girl