THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE AMERICAN/SWEDISH FILM VERSIONS OF “THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO”
About a year ago I read the international bestseller “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and claimed it as one of the best books I’ve read in awhile. I had ample amounts of anticipation for the American remake of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” especially since David Fincher was selected as director. Now seeing the Swedish made version and the American one back-to-back, I can’t decide which one I liked best but wanted to analyze the noticeable differences between each film and how true they stayed to the book. Although I haven’t read the book in quite some time, I hope that my memory still serves me well. I also am just basing it solely on the swedish version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” not the entire trilogy. The list is not meant to show which one is better than the other but the noticeable differences I found between the two and which version I thought handled it better. The choice of which version is better is solely up to you.
Release date: 2011
Director: David Fincher
Length: 158 min.
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer
Box Office Gross: $89.2M (As of January 15th)
Release Date: 2009 (2010 in U.S.)
Director: Niels Arden Opiev
Length: 152 min.
Starring: Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Sven-Bertil Taube
Box Office Gross: $10m – U.S. $104M – Worldwide
WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW FOR BOTH THE SWEDISH AND ENGLISH LANGUAGE REMAKE OF THE FILMS
(IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER)
I wouldn’t necessarily call either a happy ending but the Swedish one is definitely more upbeat than American. In the book version, after Lisbeth cleans out Wennerstrom’s accounts, and Mikael writes a book taking down the corporation after help from Lisbeth’s hacking, Lisbeth returns finally ready to accept a friend into her life. She buys Mikael a Christmas gift, until she sees him walk away kissing Erica, she then throws away the gift and drives away. In the Swedish version, she goes to the Caymen Islands to clean out the accounts and disappears into a new life, while Mikeal watches in awe of her. A good ending, but didn’t feel complete for those characters. In the American version, Lisbeth returns and sees Mikael and is ready to accept relationships until she sees him with Erica, throws his gift away and drives off in retreat. Much closer to the book and much more fitting with the arc of the characters.
Revelation of Martin Vanger:
In the Swedish version, Mikael and Lisbeth both simultaneously have a revelation about who killed the girls connected to the bible verses. While Mikael investigates Henrik’s brother, he is greeted by Martin who drugs him and chains him in the cellar. A shocking moment, and one that catches the audience by surprise whereas in the American version, Lisbeth and Mikeal come to conclusions that would trace to Martin and Mikael goes to his house to investigate and plays a long chess match with Martin in outwitting each other through conversation and eventually Martin’s realization that a kitchen knife is missing. While Craig and Skarsgard are great facing off, it lessens the dramatic impact of the revelation that Martin helped his father kill multiple women and is now going to capture Mikael.
Lisbeth is an iconic character and brought to life greatly by Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara. She is a dark, tortured character that doesn’t take shit from anyone and knows how to handle herself. She especially has a violent streak and doesn’t particularly care for men who mistreat women. She is very distant and cold emotionally but is willing to open up herself for the few that treat her as a human and not like a mentally disturbed child. Noomi Rapace had the look, the intensity, the emotional distance, and the tortured soul. She was quiet, but a bit too overly smart, but completely engaging and sometimes frightening. While Mara, has the look, the intensity, the childish episodes, and the cold heartedness. She wasn’t nearly as frightening as Rapace, however she was more sympathetic of a character but a bit too over confident in her abilities.
Lisbeth and Her Guardian:
Even though Lisbeth is in her 20′s, she is technically a ward of the state. She has a longtime guardian that cares about her, until he has a stroke and is unable to be her state appointed guardian. Enter Bjurman, a slimy, masochist, power hungry man who exchanges funds for Lisbeth for sexual favors including a blow job in his office, and then rape at his own home. A subplot in the story that is cringe-worthy and equally creepy. Both versions make them as viciously uncomfortable as possible, each with equally satisfying revenge by Lisbeth. In the Swedish version, the character of Bjurman is smart and manipulative. He knows he holds all the cards for Lisbeth and forces himself on Lisbeth because he likes the power of being in control of a defenseless girl. He is remorseless and a great villain. In the American version, he is more of a grotesque pig. A key difference is that in the American version, his character looks positively shaken after the rape and eventually apologetic the second time around seeing Lisbeth. The swedish works better because the character is someone who looks like he has and will continue abusing Lisbeth and girls like her, making her revenge all the more satisfying. Although the american version includes a nice little bonus scene where Lisbeth confronts him in the elevator and leaves him like a terrified puppy dog.
Mikael and Erika:
Erika Berger is Mikael’s partner at millennium magazine and his editor-in-chief, they also have a sexual relationship even though she is still married. In The American version, Robin Wright plays Erika exactly how I pictured her. She is much more predominant and upset at Mikael for taking leave while the company goes under and is eventually bought into by Vanger’s corporation. Erika is a great character and much more level-headed and moral than Mikael and is barely in the Swedish version. Sad, because Erika and Mikael’s relationship (sexual and professional) is one of the most intriguing parts of the story and Mikael’s character.
Mikael and his daughter:
Along with Erika, the swedish version doesn’t make a lot of mention of Mikael’s teenage daughter. She’s on good terms with him, but their relationship is still estranged, and in the book she visits him while working for Henrik and she’s on the way to go back to bible school. In the book and the American version, it is her who discovers Harriet’s code is related to bible verses, while in the Swedish one it is Lisbeth who looks at the code for a few minutes and cracks it. Mikael’s daughter doesn’t bring much to the overall plot, but having her adds more layers to Mikael’s character and makes more sense that she would make the religious connection.
Along with being an expert hacker, Lisbeth also has a photographic memory which helps her be such an amazing researcher. In the book and swedish version, Mikael spends time working with her and discovers her secrets on his own and makes Lisbeth intrigued and uncomfortable. In the book it came as a shock to me when we discover Lisbeth’s photographic memory, which she feels ashamed of. In the American version, it is never brought up and when bits of information are given to her she overconfidently says that she already knows it, like she already accepts her special talent. In the swedish version, many of the clues and things that help Mikael solve the case are given to him through an e-mail from Lisbeth where she seems to figure things out in her spare time and tries to one-up the journalist. While it’s nice to show how brilliant Lisbeth really is, the way of her randomly hacking and figuring out clues felt more like a cop-out, and a deus ex machina crutch than her and Mikael’s teamwork.
WINNER: U.S. / SWEDEN
Henrik and Mikael:
In the Swedish version, Mikael keeps Henrik a lot more in the loop to his detective work and their relationship becomes more of a friendship than the professional relationship Mikael and Henrik have in the U.S. version. Henrik also seems a lot more invested in the Mikael’s work whereas in the American version, more subplots arise and Martin becomes more of the voice of the corporation then Henrik does.
Anita Vanger/Revelation of Harriet:
In the book, Mikael traps Anita into revealing that Harriet is in Australia, and brings her back to Henrik. In the Swedish version, Super-Lisbeth finds records of Harriet living under Anita’s identity in Australia, who also died in this version. In the American version, they set up a sting operation like the book but cop-out when it is revealed that Mikael visited Anita in London earlier in the movie and it was actually Harriet the whole time. Her reunion with Henrik also doesn’t feel as natural as the Swedish version.
Mikael goes to prison:
In the book and Swedish version, Mikael’s false accusation lands him a hefty fine, a bad reputation, and a couple months in prison. In the book, Mikael took a break from researching Harriet’s disappearance to spend time in jail. In the Swedish version, Mikael serves his time for his accusations and uses it to write his comeback book to take down Wennerstrom once and for all. In the American version, it costs Blomkvist his life savings but he never has to serve any major jail time, and besides being broke faces no other consequences.
Lisbeth and her Guardian/Mother:
In the Swedish version, Lisbeth gets a phone call saying she has a new guardian and lands right in Bjurman’s office. In the American version, she is the one who finds her guardian having a stroke and eventually talks to him near the end about accepting Blomkvist into her life. In the book, Lisbeth visits her mother and near the end of the book has to attend her funeral. In the swedish version, she has to visit her mother instead of her guardian at the end and has a great emotional moment with her mom about falling in love. While the swedish movie has a fantastic dramatic moment for Noomi Rapace, I thought it meant more sense for Lisbeth to have a relationship with her former guardian as one of the only men she trusts.
Mikael’s writer’s block:
After his defeat on trial, Mikael also takes on the job of Henrik to help cure his writer’s block, and is involvement in solving the Harriet Vanger case, and getting the info on Wennerstrom from Lisbeth finally helps cure his writer’s block to make his comeback and taking down the Wennerstrom empire. It is a great character moment which is sadly never brought up in the American version.
Lisbeth is a force to be reckoned with when provoked, in the Swedish version a gang of drunken boys confront her at the train station and start to push her around, Lisbeth kicks, scratches, and fights back, breaking her laptop but sending the group of boys on the run. It is an empowering moment, whereas in the U.S. version, a mugger snatches her bag at the train station and has Lisbeth chase him, confront him, and steal the bag back before escaping in a weird parkour moment down the escalator. A cool little scene, but much more powerful and realistic in the Swedish version.
In the book and American version, Mikael is kept company by a stray cat in his cabin that becomes his pet and sort of companion until he is shockingly brutally killed and left on Mikael’s doorstep. A visually upsetting and shocking moment that ups the ante of Mikael and Lisbeth’s paranoia of one of the Vanger family members keeping an eye on them which is lacking in the Swedish version.
Mikael’s introduction to Lisbeth:
One of my favorite moments of the book is when Mikael discovers Lisbeth did research on him prior to being hired by Vanger and then discovering that she is a computer hacker. Lisbeth, a character who is used to being in charge and one step ahead of most people is completely caught off guard when Mikael barges into her door with breakfast and a job offer to help research Harriet’s disappearance. It is a great scene where Mikael gets the upper hand on Lisbeth and she is simultaneously intrigued and pissed. In the Swedish version, Lisbeth seems to always be twenty steps ahead of Mikael but he only gets in Lisbeth’s door by threatening her with going to the police for hacking his computer, in the American version he busts through the door. Seems like an insignificant change but one of my favorite moments showing Lisbeth’s attraction to Mikael’s straightforwardness with her.
Wennerstrom and Vanger:
One of the key elements that Henrik Vanger used to persuade Mikael to work for him and look into Harriet’s disappearance is that he has incriminating information on Wennerstrom from when he worked for the Vanger corporation. It turns out to be unusable evidence but was an incentive that made sense for Blomkvist to take on this year long endeavor, whereas the information is never presented to Mikael in the Swedish version.
Mikael has access to the entire Vanger family history to research Harriet’s disappearance. In the book and American version his cover is he is spending his downtime to research and write Henrik Vanger’s memoirs. In the Swedish version, he is never given cover but is there for very obvious reasons to the family.
Mikael and Lisbeth’s relationship:
Lisbeth has a hard time connecting to anyone emotionally and is also a known bisexual, so it is a shocking turn to see her throw herself onto Mikael during one night of researching. It is an awkward moment that turns surprisingly erotic and justified. In the Swedish version Lisbeth throws herself at a confused Mikael until to retreat right after they are finished. In the American version they are shown to start being intimate before the camera cuts and then they are seen in bed together again. In the swedish version it made sense for Lisbeth’s elusive personality while it makes sense in the American version to see Lisbeth get her heart broken at the end. I’m not sure which one is better for the story but both are good in their own way.
WINNER: U.S. / SWEDEN
The Swedish version had a very basic, abstract title sequence that was moody and ominous and fits the tone of the story, while the American David Fincher version features an in-your-face, visceral opening that features people in liquid metal and liquid metal draining down computer keyboards. Odd and Over-the-top? Definitely. An extremely memorable introduction for sure though. Bonus points for the kickass “Immigrant Song” cover.
Flashbacks to Harriet:
Harriet Vanger is mentioned a lot. In the Swedish version her picture is flashed on the screen about a thousand times. Brief flashbacks are shown, mainly through home videos, pictures, and other media. In the american version, The 1960′s are brought to life in a vibrant gold palette that shows more of a younger Harriet interacting with her family. While it’s nice to have more of the specter of Harriet, there is no denying the visual beauty of the 1960′s summer sequences.
In the book, Cecilia is more predominant to Mikael and often keeps him company during his long extended stay and eventually becomes a sexual partner to him. A omission in both versions of the movie, she appears and has brief screen time but is not the presence in either movie that she was in the book. To me it seemed like she had more screen time in the Swedish version in the American but I consider this a draw.
Lisbeth and Martin Vanger:
One of the best parts of the story is Lisbeth rescuing Mikael from Martin’s torture room and hitting him in the head with a golf club. She chases after him on motorcycle, he crashes and dies in the explosion. In both versions he is saved by Lisbeth, chased down and dies in an explosion but in the Swedish one, she watches Martin ask for help and burn alive screaming as she watches and smiles, satisfied by his death. Mikael later tells her how morally wrong that was. In the American version, Lisbeth asks him for permission to kill Martin and brings his handgun to his wrecked car to put an end to him before the car explodes in her face. Both are satisfying but in the Swedish version, Lisbeth shows her cold-blooded dark side by purposely letting him die, while the American version she doesn’t get the chance to make the moral choice to kill or save him. The swedish version is definitely a darker and better turn for the character of Lisbeth
AGREE/DISAGREE? GOT MORE TO ADD? DID I MISS SOMETHING OR WAS COMPLETELY WRONG ABOUT SOMETHING? COMMENT BELOW.