Friday, July 30, 2010

Under Armor . . .


I watched Girl with the Dragon Tattoo yesterday. I will try to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, but I can't guarantee anything.

I'll confess: I started reading the book months ago and never finished it. At the time, I couldn't handle its dark tone, the feeling of alienation within the pages, of terribly unhappy people trying to connect, and failing. Having seen this superb Swedish adaption, I kinda wish I'd tried harder.

Whether you have read the book or not, the film stands on its own as an incredible character study. I won't say much for the plot; the mystery that motivates much of the action is interesting, but truly beside the point. There's a reason the film and book are called "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo": what truly keeps you watching is that girl, Lisbeth Salander (played powerfully and startlingly by Noomi Rapace).

Lisbeth is the sort of girl that might scare you if you ran into her in the street on a dark night: black hair cut short perpetually falling across one eye, piercings everywhere, spikes around her neck, combat boots, tattoos. Everything about her seems to shout, "Stay back! I'll cut you!" Truthfully, if I were to see her out somewhere my first instinct would be to look away and then wish I could find something to say to her; I've always been attracted to girls like this. But, if that dangerous prickliness was all there was to Lisbeth, you would never care what happens to her; instead, we are treated to the glimpses under the armour again and again, to the damaged girl underneath.

Yes, she is tough. She is a survivor, and in this film we are only told fleeting snippets of what she's been through in her earlier years (even Blomqvist, her foil in the film and played with understated brilliance by Michael Nyqvist, understands that she will probably never tell him why she is the way she is, and is finally moved to tell her that she doesn't need to). Her traumas have turned her into a fierce, frightened bird, ready to lash out at the slightest provocation, to run if anyone gets too close. But she is the sort of woman that makes you want to be closer, to peel back the layers and have a peek inside, to release some of that terrible tension always around her like a suit of armour. It is the glimpses of vulnerability that make her real; her chain smoking, the tremble of a hand, shining eyes that never quite shed tears she has to hide. Even the titular tattoo, half-seen in darkness, hints at her silent pain; its fierceness claws its way out of the skin of her back, frightening and beautiful, seeming to protect and injure her at once.

Noomi Rapace gives an incredible, nuanced performance as Lisbeth; it's the sort of character actresses will go their entire careers never having the chance to sink their teeth into, and she plays it with dexterity, always keeping the audience on their toes. I know casting is underway for the American version of the book, and I shudder (as I did when I heard about the remake of the exemplary "Let the Right One In") to think that some other actress will now be forced to put her stamp on this multi-layered, rich character. For me, Noomi will always be the face I see when I think of Lisbeth Salander.

And, I can pretty much guarantee I will be thinking about her.

1 comment:

Christy said...

i read this book about 4 years ago...i just picked up book number two a couple of weeks ago (the girl who played with fire) and couldn't put it down...it took me only a few days to read it. i am now halfway through the final book of the trilogy...and am almost sad to finish it...i have become so attached to the characters. I understand the second movie is out now.
i just don't think the american version will be the same...we like dramatic music and happy endings...not epic silence and realistic resolutions--but maybe we will be surprised