Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a brief review

His father was a drinker
And his mother cried in bed
Folding John Wayne’s t-shirts
When the swingset hit his head

Based on Stieg Larsson’s best-selling novel, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is decidedly David Fincher’s best film, and decidedly his most morally thematic. The story follows a disgraced journalist named Mikael (Daniel Craig) who is hired by an old Swedish patriarch to uncover an unsolved murder that has festered away for over 40 years. In over his head, Mikael brings aboard a computer specialist and muckraker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). Together, they begin to unravel a family tapestry of deceit, ambiguity and the nature of radical depravity.

The neighbors they adored him
For his humor and his conversation
Look underneath the house there
Find the few living things, rotting fast, in their sleep
Oh, the dead

Filled with gloomy shots that evoke living shadows and naked corridors, TGWTDT is both haunting and cold, not unlike most of Fincher’s work. The constant tension of rain and snow and cold contributes to the overall gentle horror that the narrative conjures up. Dealing especially with sexuality and the abuse of it, Fincher and writer Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List) spare no expense in showcasing extreme brutality. The much-talked about rape scene never cuts away through much of the act, but the subsequent fallout of physical degradation experienced by the character truly doesn’t blink. While I'm not convinced that showcasing the entire forced sexual act was necessary, it does paint a painful and gut-wrenching aftermath of emotional and physical turmoil. Frankly, I'm not certain about if it was justified, so I will simply leave my concerns right where they lay.

Twenty-seven people
Even more, they were boys
With their cars, summer jobs
Oh my God
Are you one of them?

He dressed up like a clown for them
With his face paint white and red
And on his best behavior
In a dark room on the bed
He kissed them all

Though bolstered by a solid performance by Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara inhabits Lisbeth like a second skin. This is her show, and she commands every scene she is in. She is a woman who is in tight control of herself, but when she slips, it is truly apocalyptic. Her retributive encounter with a rapist is as brutal as the rape scene itself, but is ambiguous in the sense of whether or not her vengeance fulfills. I’m inclined to see it not as a feminist retaliation, which is likely what the authors and filmmakers intended, but as a very human response and a desire for control. Of course, they could be the same thing. As those who control her did awful things, so must she do everything she can to regain said control. Like I said, Fincher thrives on ambiguity and the film feels slightly scattered because of it. This is more than likely a personal objection rather than an objective one, but I felt like noting it.

He’d kill ten thousand people
With a sleight of his hand
Running far, running fast to the dead
He took off all their clothes for them
He put a cloth on their lips
Quiet hands, quiet kiss on the mouth

It needn’t be repeated that TGWTDT is not for the faint of heart. The film is darker than most of the film’s I’ve sat through, and I would not recommend this to most of my friends. On a purely technical basis, this film is flawless. The storytelling is compact, with only scattered instances of exposition, and the imagery is simultaneously harsh and haunting. I’m predicting several nominations, among them Best Actress and Director.

The biggest flaw seems to be the ending, which is almost too quiet for it’s own good. It seems as if Fincher wanted to keep the ambiguity, but in the end, it felt anti-climactic. This does not derail the film, but it feels forced. Perhaps this is simply realism. Perhaps this is in keeping with Fincher's worldview. 

Perhaps this simply is what it is.

And in my best behavior
I am really just like him
Look beneath the floor boards
For the secrets I have hid

Maybe that is the best and worst thing about this film – in illuminating the darkest parts of humanity’s soul, it never blinks. It continues to stare and gape and shiver along with the coldest settlements on humanity's depraved encampment. It never blinks. 

And it dares us to do so.

4 out of 5.


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