The thriller “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” had a different title when it debuted in Sweden. The original title, “Men Who Hate Women,” describes the premise of director Niels Arden Oplev’s vision much more accurately. Though there is indeed a girl with a dragon tattoo in this film, there are also a lot of men who don’t like women.
The film follows reporter Mikael (Michael Nyqvist) and computer hacker Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace) who work together to solve the case of a missing woman. The case is 40 years old, but Mikael and Lisbeth have been asked by the girl’s father to take another look at her diaries and photographs to find any clues as to why she disappeared. What Mikael and Lisbeth find is both shocking and sickening.
The girl’s kidnapping is only one small piece in a puzzle that involves an underworld of ritualistic murders of women. The murders are tied to obscure biblical passages and Nazism, giving the case a strange twist. Mikael and Lisbeth risk their lives trying to discern a pattern in these brutal, sacrificial deaths.
The protagonists develop a working relationship bordering on, but never crossing into, the romantic. The film instead takes time to develop its characters while never losing focus of the bizarre, violent narrative that puts these characters to the test. Just enough empathy is developed between Mikael and Lisbeth for viewers to feel especially uncomfortable when they fall into the killer’s trap.
The film takes multiple sadistic turns, never giving viewers a chance to figure out the mystery halfway through. The film is a roller-coaster ride that might have viewers wanting to get off before it is over, but the film’s narrative is so focused and tightly knit that viewers will be glad they got on.
Oplev ups the ante as he depicts brutal sexual violence aimed at Lisbeth, heightening the tension and implications of the film’s themes of sexual power and perversion. Rape, torture and sacrifice give this mystery thriller a creative and morbid edge. This edge is something lacking in typical thrillers but comes through in every scene because of Oplev’s direction. Oplev’s vision seems twisted and amoral at times, but it should be, as it depicts characters with haunting pasts.
The film is a well-conceived portrayal of sexual perversion and violence. The strong, dark cinematography and complex character development may surprise an American audience.
Because of an extremely strong female protagonist, this Swedish film could join the ranks of other great films in the genre, such as “Alien” or “Silence of the Lambs.” Much like these two masterpieces, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” pays great attention to detail. Whereas gory horror films reach for entertainment value and the gag reflex, the moral dilemmas Mikael and Lisbeth face are actually relatable.
This film climaxes with tension and torture that will have viewers sweating in fear. And though its title sounds more sexual than scary, Lisbeth’s tattoo is nothing to gawk at. Her dragon tattoo symbolizes nothing but a gory ride through a haunting past.
“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” was written by Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg and directed by Niels Arden Oplev.