Thursday, August 19, 2010

Brain trust

For a film about the development of trust, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2009) doesn't trust its audience very much. It turns out the lights, turns up the music, and bangs us over the head with some of the most grotesque and nauseating personal violence ever seen in a mainstream movie. It purports to condemn violence against women, then serves up a big steaming bowl of it, including attacks on and by the title character (who is not the central character).

Most of the film occupies that newly-established place bridging mystery, thriller and horror film, pioneered by Silence of the Lambs and continued with 7even. The addition of horror elements means not only horrific depictions of the murders, previously only described in more polite mysteries, but also violence upon one or more central characters, and thereby to be experienced by the audience.

That accretion of new genre conventions is almost necessary, because once the audience is past the preliminary investigation into piles of original documents and photos, the principal mystery becomes fairly easy to guess--I did so, and I'm terrible at solving mysteries. Thus, the final bursts of violence are perversely welcome after a long becalmed period, incorporating an improbably romance between the protagonist, a middle-aged reporter and the title character, a badly damaged young woman who has discovered a talent and passion for hacking. After that, there is a very limp resolution of the "outer" plot, in which the inner story has been nested. Thus, Dragon Tattoo has some unintended common ground with Inception, in their mutual Russian-nesting-doll structure.

The trust trope is thoroughly infused into the narrative: most institutions in this universe betray and degrade the people they are meant to serve. Government employees, businessmen, guardians of minors, lovers, fathers, brothers--none of them are trustworthy. It's a miracle that Blomqvist or Lisbeth can look anyone in the eye. And although the romance does not necessarily pan out, it's very existence, though brief, is a spiritual triumph.

The color palette is washed out as is de rigeur these days to indicate "atmosphere," and the production design is oppressively drab. Presumably this was deliberate--everyone seems desperate to find happiness or joy in this very bleak world. This movie's going to kill Swedish tourism.

Finally, although this is not a reflection on the film itself (which is what I try to confine myself to), one must applaud the producers' boldness in committing to filming the entire trio of mysteries at once. The Americanized version will not be done that way--there will be a slow, tentative stab at the initial installment, then a reluctantly made decision to go ahead, by which time the original actors and/or director will not be available, or perhaps the series will be abandoned incomplete due to the natural gutlessness of the American film finance market.

And will the villains in America be Nazis? That does not have the resonance in the States that it has for Europeans, who were faced with the actual option to join the party. American Nazis are fringe cuckoos. European Nazis could be either evil or careerists (like Herbert von Karajan).

But then driving out ambiguity is what American mainstream filmmaking is all about. At least they hired David Fincher for the remake, so we can hope.

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