How the English Version of ‘Girl with a Dragon Tattoo’ Accidentally Reveals Everything Dumb About Hollywood

How the English Version of ‘Girl with a Dragon Tattoo’ Accidentally Reveals Everything Dumb About Hollywood

One thing that made Inglorious Basterds so powerful was that it took a quiet, historical fantasy – Jews killing Hitler – and blew it up to fantastic proportions, in a way that felt real. Quentin Tarentino is good at that trick of grounding fantasy in grit. The only movie I’ve seen since then that does this equally well is the Swedish version of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The moment where protagonist Lisbeth Salander tattoos “I’m a sadist pig and a rapist” on her rapist while sticking a dildo up his ass – now that is a collective fantasy women have not been quite sure how to articulate.

The whole movie itself was an extension of this – a story about a woman conquering violence against women. People told me that if I liked it, I should go see the new, David Fincher version. I brought my boyfriend along because if David Fincher could make a story about Facebook and lawyers seem action-packed and testosterone-driven, he could probably bring this women’s story into a new light for men.

Unfortunately this was not the case. The movie totally confused him, and the parts that did were the parts that were stupid about not necessarily this adaption, but the concept of adapting a foreign movie for Hollywood.

“Where are they in the world exactly?” he asked me at the beginning.

“Sweden,” I whispered.

“Why are they speaking English?”

This is the part that confused me as well. I had hoped that the movie would be dramatically different in tone or style somehow, enough to feel like a reinterpretation instead of just a total remake to avoid subtitles. But aside from adding more heavy metal to the soundtrack, the movie felt basically the same – if snowier?

To make it worse, all the actors had totally different takes on the English accents they felt appropriate. Daniel Craig sounded British with a hint of American. Some actors sounded vaguely Scottish. Only Rooney Mara seemed to bother to develop an accent that at least sounded like a Swedish person speaking English.

But why were all these Swedish characters speaking English? The only answer was that they were speaking English for Hollywood. That is dumb. Dumb like how it was dumb that the movie Frida, about two Mexican artists who lived to promote Mexican pride, was in English. The only way that could have been dumber is if Frida was made in Spanish and re-shot in English. Shouldn’t we feel a little ashamed that our country makes it worth totally reshooting a movie so that we don’t have to read subtitles/ deal with a foreign language?

If the movie had been remade to be distinctly Fincher-esque, that would have been a different story. But that’s not how it felt at all. Partly because it lost the plot in another sense, which my boyfriend noticed without me pointing it out:

“The thing I didn’t like about the movie was how the girl was so hard and closed off but then she’d suddenly be totally in love with the guy.”

Aha! Another aspect that was not present in the original. In the Swedish version, Lisbeth doesn’t care that much about Mikael. She doesn’t follow him around puppy-eyed at the end, in fact, she doesn’t speak to him for months even though he contacts her. And she definitely does not ask for his permission to kill the rapist/murderer/evil guy. “May I kill him?” “Yes, if you open up about your damaged past during post-sex snuggling.” “Done!” Nope, in the Swedish one she watches him die, and then doesn’t apologize for it when asked to, stating that he was a murderer of women, so he should die. (This made me think about ethics – is it ethical to kill a man if you are fairly certain he will ruin countless other lives? Not many movies get me thinking that way, including the Fincher version.)

Basically, in the Swedish version, Lisbeth was the protagonist, making the main discoveries and having the power in the relationship the whole time. In the American version, she was hired help, and Mikael was the one making the bigger breakthroughs. My co-worker explained that he thought in the American adaption, this happened because it was Daniel Craig, and he needed to have more of a starring role than the Swedish character had. Good point, although from a woman’s standpoint, it’s hard not to hear this as “The character who made Dragon Tattoo an awesome woman’s story has to take a backseat to James Bond. This is Hollywood.”

And I know that adapting foreign films is common, and not something to get mad about, but in this day and age it’s worth thinking about this with extra sensitivity. What does it say to Swedish people – or to women, to reframe a movie in English with the male protagonist as the main hero? It might make it appeal more to mainstream audiences, but it loses out on fulfilling those fantasies that oppressed people can only fulfill in movies.

Becky Lang