Movie vs. Book: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

****Spoiler Alert: Because so many people are familiar with the bestselling novel, the Swedish movie version and the American movie version, I felt no obligation to refrain from spoilers. They are included. Consider yourself warned.

It’s a story that begins when a well-known journalist is asked to investigate a 40-year-old murder mystery. But readers of the Millenium series know The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is not just about journalist Mikael Blomkvist, but also his research assistant and computer-hacking friend/lover Lisbeth Salander.

Not only is this a murder mystery, but the beginning of one of the most adult relationships either character has ever had. They round each other out, thus helping to solve the murder of young Harriet Vanger, the niece of a wealthy Swedish entrepreneur.

The movie version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo follows the plot of the murder mystery in close detail. Blomkvist’s discoveries with the old photographs and Lisbeth’s research into the Biblical references in victim Harriet Vanger’s journals are played out in the movie. What’s changed here are some of the aspects of the characters’ personal lives.

For instance, in the novel, Blomkvist is much more of a playboy, sleeping with not only his co-worker, Erika Berger, and Lisbeth Salander, but also Cecilia Vanger, one of the many relatives of murder victim, Harriet. But the movie doesn’t acknowledge the sexual relationship between Cecilia Vanger and Blomkvist. The movie also leaves out the subplot about Lisbeth’s mother dying. The movie doesn’t feel lost without it — in fact, it’s very jam-packed — but it would have been nice to see that played out, if for no other purpose than to give viewers a glimpse into Lisbeth’s personal life.

Despite the relatively minor plot changes, the movie not only does justice to the book, but enhances it. The only problem I ever had with the novel is that keeping track of the Vanger family — and all the characters, really — grew to be exhausting. But seeing it onscreen and being able to put faces to names helped.

A few other highlights of the movie are the performances, the music, and the graphic scenes. Rooney Mara kills it as Lisbeth Salander, in the way she speaks, works, and even carries herself; and Daniel Craig as Blomkvist is a perfect fit — believable, smart, and sexy, just as I imagined Blomkvist to be. The strange and ominous music, written by Trent Reznor (The Social Network), helps to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. The soundtrack is as uncomfortable and piercing as some of the scenes are.

David Fincher does not shy from the graphic style of the book, clearly portraying the scenes of Lisbeth’s sexual abuse and rape, her violence against her abuser, and the torture of Blomkvist at the end. I admit, I had to close my eyes for much of these scenes, and the rape had me so upset, I cried. As a woman, reading that scene was extremely difficult. But to see it played out onscreen was excruciating.

All in all, the power of the novel comes through on camera, and whether you loved the book or couldn’t quite get through it, the movie is definitely worth seeing — especially before awards season starts.

Get The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo for just $9.


Filed under Movie vs. Book, Reviews

20 responses to “Movie vs. Book: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

  1. It’s certainly worth seeing if you missed the original. If you saw it, however, there’s no way of unseeing it, and nothing in the new one to top it. Craig and Mara are great here though and Fincher brings so much more to this film like I was expecting too. Good review.

  2. Marty

    I saw the Swedish film first, then read the book, and just saw the American version. Love David Fincher, thought he did a good job. I’m partial to Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth, but Rooney did a great job. Liked Daniel Craig also. The rape scene was so disturbing, I almost skipped the American version for fear of having to see it again. Rough! Overall good movie though.

  3. JJ

    Spoiler alert- saw both film versions and read the book. Really liked this US version, but was confused by the plot change at the end with Anita/Harriet. Why not just keep the true story line? Adding a scene in Australia wouldnt have been more than a couple of minutes longer than the scene they filmed in the park in London. And clearer! I think they missed an opportunity by cutting out Lisbeth’s relationship with her mother, and her death. They will need to cover that in the second movie. My guess was it was for time; much of the exposition in the beginning felt really rushed to me. But over all I was very impressed!

  4. Tammy

    I think the Swedish version is a much better screenplay. The Swedish version fit in other clues, like Anita/Harriet looking alike, Anita wearing the necklace that Ceclia eventually wore, Harriet/Anita babysitting a young Mikael, Lizbeth’s mother and the flashbacks with the stepfather. the Swedish version just fit so much more in and did it in such a better way that made sense. The flashbacks in the Swedish version were done so well and explained everything. The Swedish version with the trip to Australia was so much better. I did think that Rooney did an exceptional job. She fit the book’s description of waif-like Lizbeth better, and Iiked the attitude she brought to the role. The Martin villian in the Swedish version was so much more creepy too. Especially when he was explaining how he offered his victims water and gave them “hope”. So creepy. I was very disappointed with the screenplay of the English version. It was nice not to have to read subtitles but I really recommend seeing the Swedish version over the English one.

  5. sven inlanc

    I also read all the books, own and have watched all the originial Swedish movies as soon as they were available. I also wondered about making a us version when the original swedish versions were so well done, and very true to the book. I saw it tonight as just a comparsion to detemine whether the remaining two would be worth while. I really liked the us version and was surprised how much I liked it. Two main issues with the us version 1 the starting oiled up led zepplen song credits did absolutely nothing for me,cool graphics and stuff but absolutely no connection to the books, theme, plot and left me confusec, 2 harriett, is really in london?that was damnconfusing and i think was sloppy, besides that the us version was able to hold it own

  6. Michael Kraig

    QUERY TO ALL from a person who has NOT read the books but HAS seen the two movies:
    –in the American one, the biblical references are originally supplied indirectly via Mikael’s Christian daughter, and the American version makes a fairly big deal out of his strained relationship with his daugther’s christianity…giving some irony to the fact that she provides him the window into the Gottfried murders, which HE (not Lisbeth) links to the bible verses, once he realizes they are bible verses.
    –in contrast, in the Swedish one, there is absolutely no daughter (let along a christian daughter) and it is Lisbeth who first links the names and numbers to bible verses.

    My question: which reflects the book? One reason I ask is that I am curious (and suspicious) about whether the American version had to have a “nice” reference to christianity planted in there (via his daughter, whose faith gives him a crucial clue that his skepticism did not allow), given all the negativity otherwise. If it’s true to the book, that’s fine; but if it’s a plant, that’s just plain pandering to a certain section of the US audience (likely at the behest of a producer, not anyone else). ????

    • I believe the American version does this correctly, according to the book. In the book, Mikael definitely has a daughter and she does put two and two together about the Biblical references in the murder mystery. The only difference between the book and the movie — I think — is that, in the book, Lisbeth plays a larger role in clarifying what’s going on than Mikael. I could be wrong about this, but that’s how I remember it.

    • I don’t know why everyone things that the Christian daughter subplot was planted by the American filmmakers. It’s in the original BOOK. I thought both films were good for different reasons but I was annoyed with the way the Swedish film changed that subplot.

  7. Jackie

    I’m like Michael, I have questions as to which movie actually follows the book more. I too found it curious that there was a christian daughter in the US version. Also that the discovery is so mutual, the rape scenes completely different, the difference of Martin’s participation etc. I missed the flashbacks with Mikael’s childhood and other details.
    I did like the casting of the US version. Daniel Craig is much more believable as the playboy and Rooney was a great Lisbeth but I still lean toward Repace. My biggest disappointment was changing the ending with Harriet. The biggest shocker for me was the difference in the dragon tattoos. I actually sighed when I saw the US version.
    So, while I enjoyed both movies, I prefer the original. The US version is entertaining and I’m sure it will be nominated for awards. I just liked the original best.

    • I don’t know why everyone things that the Christian daughter subplot was planted by the American filmmakers. It’s in the original book. I thought both films were good for different reasons but I was annoyed with the way the Swedish film changed that subplot. On the other hand I found the anitz twist in the US version to be very annoying.

  8. I loved the U.S version, in fact i enjoyed it more than the swedish version. I could not take my eyes off it, and yes the minor changes were different but i feel if you understood the book it was easy to follow,and if you havent it was more entertaining. i do love the original, but rooney mara, she just sold it for me, and if i hadnt read any of the books, this movie would have made me

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  10. private

    The Christian daughter in the US version is very true to the book, not a creation for the Us audience. In both the book and Us version, daughter shows up in his Hedeby cabin on the way to bible camp (yes, really), dad is unimpressed (even concerned) about her religious interest. As daughter is pulling away on train next morning, she says to Blomkvist “Keep up your religious studies – you know the verses by your desk.” In both versions, dad is confused by the remark until he comes home and pieces it together. So the Us version is very, very similar to the book. In the book, the teen daughter’s religiousity seems to be designed to parallel teen Harriet’s supposed religious interest by a similar aged girl.

    i saw the US version, then read the book, and am almost done with the Swedish film. i like them exactly in that order for many reasons – Mara is a better Lisabeth, in part because her waifishness makes her ultimate inner and outer strength more powerful. Frankly, the Swedish version took the easy way out with Lisbeth physically taking on a subway gang and winning, whereas US Lisbeth has to use her wits, guts and physical fearlessness to win. The relationship (and especially meeting) of Salander and Blomkvist is better in the US (and much closer to the book), Christopher Plummer was a better Henrik and had a bigger role than in the Swedish version, and I think liking and respecting Henrik is a big reason to care about Harriet.

    I also LIKED the change of Anita/Harriet in the Us version, as I thought it made a lot more sense than the book. I found jet-setting to a sheep ranch in Australia to be too much at that stage of the already-long book, and I thik i would have felt it even more so in a movie. II found it impossible to believe, especially in this digital and homeland security age, that Anita and harriet could both be alive at the same time, sharing the same identity, name, Swedish ID number, passport, etc. Much better to make one have died long ago and Harriet taken that persona over. And seeing her earlier in the US version as Anita made the audience care and connect more to the big reveal at the end. Plus, in the book, sisters Cecilia and Anita look so much alike that Lisbeth and Blomkvist mistake them for each other for most of the book. Then at the end, turns out cousins Anita and Harriet looked so much alike one could take over the other’s identity. Please. Three nearly identical looking girls in one book, to the point there are repeated cases of mistaken identity between all of them? I was rolling my eyes. At the least the US movie simplified that by making it just two characters.

  11. Chloe

    I definitely think the Sweedish version was better than the American. Rooney Mara didn’t portray Lisbeth in the way she was presented in the book – she was more ruthless and have the impression that her and Mikael’s relationship was purely sexual when in actual fact Larson depicts Lisbeth as a vulnerable woman who falls in love and gets her heart broken. Mara missed out the human side of Lisbeth and didn’t do as good of a job as Noomi Rapace who was absolutley brilliant as Lisbeth. It’s only my opinion, but I much prefer the Sweedish version.

  12. How did the cat get in Mikael’s cabin? was it Martin… sneaking around, thus, at the end of the movie, being able to refer to all the crap (or whatever) on Mikael’s desk?

  13. Anna

    I’ve read the book first, and right afterwards I’ve seen the movie. The movie felt kind of rushed to me, like they had to get it all fit in their 2 hours. If I hadn’t read to books first, I doubt I would have understood it all. They did almost the exact same thing and had the same clues, but it was all going so fast I didn’t even really care.

    • Anna, see the movie again. It does go so fast, and there is so much. I heard a definition of a “classic” once as when you go back again and again, you keep getting more out of it. This is one of the best movies ever made. I watched the Swedish. It was unattractive dark, whereas the American one was attractive dark… and the actors in the American were better looking too. The cutting was amazing, I noticed that every scene but two or three was a switch back and forth between Lizbeth and Mikael.

  14. Pingback: New Book Coming in ‘Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ Series | Lara's Book Club

  15. In my opinion, American interpretation was…dull. My impression was that the movie director did not read the book. Stieg Larsson mastered such a strong and outstanding characters! On the other hand, the movie lacks depth and power.

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