The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

 (2009 - Sweden and 2011 - USA)

by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

2011 - COMPLETE spoilers

I'm not kidding about that "spoilers" warning. Do not read this if you don't want to ruin the experience of watching a mystery film, because I'm going to discuss plot minutiae and the various solutions to the mystery, as presented by three different sources.

There is a vital lesson to be learned in the succession of projects that have taken this story from a book to a Swedish movie to an American remake, and that lesson is this: if you must re-write plot details in a mystery or a thriller, you need to bring in several other people to read the script to make sure that you haven't messed up other things dependent on the original unchanged details. It is normal in this kind of plot for all the details to interlock, and if you change one thing you'll probably have to change several others which relate to that one.

Here's the problem: the core of the exposition in this story hinges on a woman presumed murdered who is not actually dead. Her beloved uncle hires an investigative reporter to figure out which of his relatives killed her. In the original story, the "dead" girl had been sending her uncle a distinctive kind of flower arrangement every year since her disappearance. Since those arrangements were identical to the ones she had given him while she was "alive," she presumed that the uncle would realize that she was still alive. The uncle did not make that assumption. He assumed that her killer was taunting him.

The Swedish movie handled the resolution of this plot detail correctly. As soon as the woman found out about the despair she had caused her beloved uncle all those years, she rushed to meet him in person, traveling immediately all the way from a remote part of Australia to an equally remote part of northern Sweden, because she just had to atone for the pain she had inadvertently caused him.

The problem began when the American scriptwriters changed the identity of the missing girl. The change that they made was very clever, and I would call it a significant improvement - except for one important factor: changes do not exist in a vacuum. When they changed the identity of the missing girl, they forgot that she had been trying to tell her uncle that she was alive. At one point in the investigation, the reporter, not knowing who she was at the time, told her that her uncle was distraught by her death, and was still obsessed with it after many decades. So did she rush to his side? Not at all. She didn't even pick up the damned phone to call the old codger to offer some comfort to his final days. But we know from the annual flower arrangement that she really wanted her uncle to know she was alive. So why did she do nothing after finding out that her gift had been misinterpreted? The script re-write turned her into a cruel witch, but she couldn't have been that cruel because she sent the flowers in the first place. So the script simply ended up with a contradiction. She loved the uncle so much that she wanted him to know she was alive, but when she found out that he had misinterpreted the annual gifts and that his old age was filled with despair because of her "death," she suddenly didn't care enough about him to make a simple phone call, let alone fly immediately to his side.

I must have seen something like this happen in about a hundred different adapted scripts over the years, just because the scriptwriters felt like tinkering without considering all the ramifications of their changes.

There were a few other plot points that were much clearer in the Swedish version.

1. It was clear in the original that the reporter was convicted of libel, was sentenced to jail time, and was convicted justly. This was an important and interesting sub-plot, because the reporter was duped into printing an inaccurate story. He was just simply outsmarted. The reporter had been on the trail of a legitimate expose. His target, a corrupt industrialist, tricked him off the trail by "offering" him a much bigger story through a trusted old friend. The so-called friend turned out to be on the payroll of the industrialist all along, and the bigger story turned out to be totally false. Although the original, smaller story had been accurate, the reporter's libel conviction totally undermined his credibility and made it impossible for him to go back to the first story, or even to get any more work as a reporter. In fact, he had to go to the Swedish slammer for his crime, and part of the film's ongoing investigation was conducted by Lisbeth the hacker (the title character) while the reporter was in jail.

2. Even though the allegedly murdered girl was still alive, there actually was a murderer in the family (actually two!) and though they had not killed the presumed victim, they apparently had killed the remaining female population of Sweden. (Yeah, I know. How convenient that the investigation turned up a murderer even though the "victim" was still alive.) Late in the story, the reporter knew who the killer was, and the killer was aware that the reporter had figured it out. After all that had been established, the killer even caught the reporter in his yard after he had snuck out of his house. So what happened than? The killer called the reporter back in, and the reporter came, not at gunpoint, but of his own volition. That was an absolute WTF situation. The reporter would have known at that time that he was returning to his own death, but he just amiably returned. I watched the film in a packed theater, and the entire audience groaned when Daniel Craig's character, caught with his hand in the cookie jar, meekly marched back into the killer's lair, to certain doom, instead of just running the hell away. Needless to say, nothing similar to that happened in the book or the original movie.

3. In the original film, the killer was using his influence to squelch the investigation, as you might expect. In the remake, the killer was actually overriding other people who wanted to suppress the investigation, and was offering all possible co-operation! At one point he could have ended the entire investigation and blamed that decision entirely on the company's attorney, who was an honest and respected man. Again ... WTF? Are we to assume that he wanted to get caught? Nothing else in the script indicated that.

What was purpose of tinkering with these plot points, which were all perfectly logical in the earlier versions of the tale? I just don't know.

I give David Fincher lots of points for the way he managed the look, the dramatic tension, and the atmosphere in this film. All of the technical credits, from the acting to the cinematography to the editing are totally first-rate. It's a long film, but I sat through it without ever being aware of the time because the narrative moves quickly and clearly and is filled with interesting details. Fincher just did a great job in general. It's a good film. The Swedish original is nowhere near as professional and slick.

But slick isn't everything.

What the hell, man, why make all of those unnecessary changes? The story was perfectly good to begin with. Why didn't you just use what you had?

Swedish DVD
Swedish Blu-Ray

American DVD
American Blu-Ray
Note: the Swedish product is really excellent, and a must-have for your collection. It includes all three films in the trilogy, with extended versions of each - total running time 9 hours.

It also includes two English-language options: both dubbing (a pretty decent job) and subtitles.


2011 version

3.5 Roger Ebert (of 4 stars)
86 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)
71 (of 100)

2009 version

4 Roger Ebert (of 4 stars)
86 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)
76 (of 100)


7.7 IMDB - 2009 version (of 10)
A- Yahoo Movies - 2009 Version

8.3 IMDB - 2011 version (of 10)
A- Yahoo Movies - 2011 Version


Box Office Mojo 2009 version. With a modest production of $13 million, the film grossed $100 million internationally, including about $10 million in the USA in only 200 theaters!

Box Office Mojo 2011 version. David Fincher spent some $90 million on the American remake. It opened in third place with about $21 million, and is headed for about $100 million in domestic gross.


2011 version

  • Rooney Mara has five nude scenes, eventually exposing just about everything there is to expose.
  • Yorick_van_Wageningen is naked in a rape scene, but although the scene is quite graphic in some ways, it is not edited in such as way as to expose much of the actor's body, which is not a pretty sight to begin with.

2009 version

There is not as much nudity in the Swedish version, but Noomi Rapace has one great scene where she bends forward and offers a look at the Cave of the Eighth Happiness.


Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


These are both excellent genre films.