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Friday 13 January 2012

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Previously: A fan's introduction to costume design.

This is something of a follow-up to my post from a few months ago, in which I criticised the way the American remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was being marketed. Having now seen the film itself, I can say that it's just as excellent as all the reviews say, although I still prefer the original Swedish version. Rooney Mara's performence was brilliant (and often surprisingly funny -- she's a master of the deadpan "fuck you" one-liner), and different enough from Noomi Rapace's that it didn't seem like a retread. Daniel Craig's was a little trickier. He was a lot more likeable than Michael Nyqvist, the actor who played Blomkvist in the Swedish film, and I think the story benefits from Blomkvist being an appealing character since Salander is so intent on being unappealing. But Craig almost seemed too polished and charming, whereas Nyqvist was more believable as a middle-aged journalist. It feels cheap to namecheck James Bond, but Craig came across as a little too charming and heroic for my tastes, for all that Salander still bore the brunt of the violence in the film.

Craig was far more dapper than I expected for the character of Blomkvist, which made it more difficult for me to separate Daniel Craig from Michael Blomkvist in my mind, particularly since he's otherwise famous for another very well-dressed character. This new, stylish Blomkvist wore tailored trousers and was rarely seen without a fitted waistcoat -- in other words, he was often almost indistinguishable in appearance from Daniel Craig in red-carpet mode.
To my surprise, I had no problems with the alterations Fincher made to the ending. In fact, it counted in the film's favour since I no longer knew what was going to happen next. My main criticisms come down to personal taste rather than the objective quality of the film.

One problem I had was with the Swedish accents. Someone told me that Fincher had everyone speak like that in order to highlight the "alien setting" to English-speaking viewers, but all it did was remind me of a scene from Slings & Arrows, in which a Hollywood heart-throb is about to begin rehearsals for Hamlet and asks a co-star if he should start learning a British accent for the role. She replies that Hamlet is from Denmark, so maybe he should start looking up Danish accent tapes instead. But when was the last time you heard a Danish Hamlet? The fact that I knew the Swedish accents in GWTDT were fake was offputting, especially since Stellan SkarsgĂ„rd, the only Swedish actor in the main cast, sounded more Irish than Rooney Mara's convincing Swedish, and  Daniel Craig basically retained his own accent throughout. What happened when Blomkvist went to London to visit Anita Vanger? Were they speaking English, or Swedish? Anita's accent was English with a very believable posh London tinge, so I'd say English. But by that logic... what language had Blomkvist been speaking throughout the rest of the film?

The time has come to stop using non-English accents to represent non-English languages. It's too reminiscent of the countless movies in which Nazi villains speak in well-enunciated German accents by way of Oxford. X-Men: First Class and Inglourious Basterds both included scenes in which characters spoke in non-English languages with subtitles, and they certainly didn't suffer in the box-office. By comparison, the recent Captain America film -- aimed at pretty much the same audience as X-Men -- had the Nazi villains speaking English with German accents and came across as faintly ridiculous.
The costumes toed the line with regards to colour palette throughout the film, which in a way ties in with the Swedish accents = alien atmosphere thing. It was a stylistic choice that meant that most of the film took place in shades of grey, except for a few brief moments of warm yellow-brown interiors, either in Stockholm or during the 1960s flashbacks. I'm torn because it was more visually arresting than the more pedestrian cinematic choices of the Swedish film -- not to mention the fact that the all-grey cityscapes and snow-on-snow shots of rural Sweden were fittingly bleak -- but also less realistic. Lisbeth Salander may be extraordinary but this isn't a fantastical sort of film, and although most viewers probably don't care about this sort of thing as much as I do, I tend to notice when characters are uniformly dressing to fit a themed colour scheme.
from marieclaire.
While Rapace's Salander was a something of a classic Scandinavian goth-punk, Mara's was more slouchy hacker -- with , dare I say it, hints of the H&M distressed-leather street-style, which isn't surprising since the film's costume designer consulted on H&M's Dragon Tattoo collection. It's partly a characterisation choice, and partly, I suspect, a desire to distance the American adaptation from the Swedish. I'll be interested to see where they go with costume choices in the sequels. In the Swedish films, they make it quite obvious when Salander is using clothes and makeup as a mask, such as when she goes to court in the final film wearing a ton of goth gear and jet-black lipstick. When she's more relaxed she tends tone it down to skinny jeans and her leather jacket, as in the book.
Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish GWTDT.
Rooney Mara, on the other hand, spends a significant proportion of the movie wearing shapeless mens khakis slung low on her hips. An Americanisation for sure, but an equally valid characterisation choice. Both looks represent one of the intrinsic elements of Lisbeth Salander's character: that she does what she wants, she wears what she wants, and fuck you too. She's the purest form of "sexual but not sexy" that I can think of in a mainstream female character. (N.B. And by "not sexy" I don't mean, "Lisbeth Salander isn't sexy", but that she makes no attempt to conform to what is widely regarded to be the way young women should look if they want to be accepted and/or get laid.)
You could tell that all of Salander's costumes had spent like 2 weeks being weathered by long-suffering costume assistants. Nobody's clothes look that weathered unless they wear them every day a for a decade.
Having now seen both films, I think my ideal version would be the original Swedish, but with the cinematography and soundtrack of Fincher's adaptation, plus possibly Fincher's 1960s flashbacks since period settings generally benefit from a bigger budget. The tension of the camerawork in the American movie was phenomenal, but on the whole I prefer the unpolished state of the original. Although this was a better Hollywoodisation than I dared hope for, there's something more authentic about a world where stressed-out Swedish journalists look less like Daniel Craig in a $4000 suit and more like this:
Lena Endre and Michael Nyqvist as Erika Berger and Michael Blomkvist, in the Swedish GWTDT.
I wonder if GWTDT will be a contender for a Costume Design Oscar? Certainly not a win, but perhaps a nomination. Does it deserve one? I'm not sure. I'm biased towards it because the film takes place in a (mostly) present-day setting, and regular readers will already know that I get irritated by historical dramas and fantasy movies hogging all the costume awards. This seems like the rare sort of contemporary-set film that will catch the viewer's attention when it comes to costumes, particularly thanks to the character of Salander. I get the impression from reviews that while Salander's gothy look won't seem unfamiliar to most European and British audiences, she might seem a little more out-there to American viewers. That, and the fact that a great deal of emphasis has been put on Rooney Mara's transformation into Salander, as it always is when an actress loses or gains weight (and in this case, multiple piercings) for a role. I guess we'll find out in a couple of weeks, when Oscar nominations are revealed.

Link: video interview with Trish Summerville, costume designer of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.


  1. The accents didn't bother me on the whole, although I have to say the UK actors seemed to do worse at sounding Swedish than the Americans. I think because they mostly kept the Brit accent and tried to add Scandinavian touches (which was tooootally apparent in that first scene with Daniel Craig and Joely Richardson. "Why do you sound the same as she does? She's been in England for the last forty years. You haven't."), while Rooney Mara and Robyn Wright threw out the Americanisms entirely and tried to embrace Swedishness whole-heartedly. I don't mind when material that should include a language barrier is conveyed through foreign accents instead. It's better than the Shakespeare model that you mentioned--fuck it, we'll all just sound English.

  2. i just love that you referenced Slings and Arrows. <3

  3. The scene with Joely Richardson was good AND bad, accent-wise, because I though her accent was perfect in its posh London banker-ness, but THEN there was the problem that Daniel Craig was presumably speaking English except his voice sounded exactly the same as it did when he was speaking "Swedish". To my untrained ears, Rooney Mara's accent was awful, but Craig's was just terrible. The accents don't seem to have bothered most people, but I DEFINITELY would have prefered it if it didn't sound like they were speaking English with Swedish accents all the way through. ://

  4. I LOVE EVERYTHING ABOUT SLINGS AND ARROWS. Although I still haven't seen the second half of season 3. ://

  5. Re: the accent, I read somewhere that Daniel Craig thought it would get in the way (maybe because he can't affect a good Swedish accent?) and that David Fincher said he shouldn't do anything that felt unnatural. He also says:

    "Some people in the film have accents and some don’t. I don’t. I had a long conversation with David about it and said that a lot of Scandinavians speak English perfectly. I’m one of those guys. We’ve got Danish people, Swedish people, English people, American people. The only thing that matters, as far as I’m concerned, is that no one sounds American. We sound as European as possible. We’re all speaking one common language and that happens to be English. I didn’t want an accent to get in the way, and for me it would. Salander has no formal education and she has a street accent, it’s quite specific." (from here:

  6. Yep, pretty much. While I still prefer the Swedish original, I was pleasantly surprised by how it was less Hollywood than I might have expected. And Lisbeth was definitely not "sexy," which was also a relief. (And the soundtrack was predictably excellent.)

  7. I don't think her look is all that unfamiliar to Americans. I mean myself and nearly all my friends dress very much like her, or alternatively still in the distressed and draped/layered style but more elegant than trashy (and by trashy I simply mean trashed, not in a class value). You could practically find any of her outfits, though marginally less distressed, at H&M two years ago. It was a wonderful time to be goth, let me tell you, with all the asymmetrical blacks and grays, and leather, studs and buckles. But in clothes that actually look good.

    The more "traditional" goth look that is represented in the Swedish GWTDT is on the outs with more of the goth community than one might expect. I personally view it as an incredibly young or dated way to dress. But I guess that's because myself and my friends have moved on to loving stores the like of AllSaints.

    I feel like American reviews are often fantastical and often lying. Then again, I have the good fortune of living in a city with a large enough scene. And it may be that I'm more familiar with foreign goth styles in general. The goth look that many Americans are familiar with is based on what is available to them (or people around them) as fashion choices, and that's often only DIY or Hot Topic (shudder).

  8. ah, so does this mean that they are meant to be speaking english throughout the movie?

  9. the soundtrack was excellent but i gave it a listen and without the movie it probably isn't something i'd listen to recreationally. except the Immigrant Song cover, which i've had playing on repeat since the trailer came out, months ago. ;)

  10. i am no expert in american street fashion, although from what i've seen on blogs and/or from friends it seems to a lot more relaxed/comfy than in europe, no matter where you're from. i've only ever been to california, which is very low on the goth stakes (i find that worldwide, goth gravitates north & towards cold weather). i definitely don't think that salander's outfits were all that bizarre, but outside major cities... maybe. i don't know.

    agreed regarding Swedish salander's classic-goth look. i see a lot of that in scandinavian countries because that's where you find more metalheads, but definitely in the UK you only see that stuff on 15 year olds and hardcore scene-goths in Camden, London and similar.

  11. I'm actually in California. It really depends. If you are in warmer weather, it's hard to get the layering or the sleeves or all the accessories without dying of heat, true. But I don't find that Goths tend to migrate to certain areas per se. It's about finding the scene in your area, and often it can be more underground. There is a large enough scene in LA, in SF, in Seattle, in Denver in any city really.

    The Swedish look is definitely more metal than goth. But then again, the American look can be considered more punk than goth. It's an amalgamation of different looks, but with the budget of a Hollywood film.

  12. Haha, I have no idea; things are so handwavy when movies that are supposed to take place in another country have the characters speak English.

  13. The problem there is, how would you fix it? The film is based in Sweden, so it wouldn't make sense for them to sound anything but Swedish (imperfect accents aside). As for them not speaking English, wouldn't that negate the point of an American adaptation? I completely see your point when it comes to Warhorse, which has sections that should have been in German and French, but here, not so much.

  14. Don't most Swedes speak fairly fluent UK style English? So there isn't a huge need for complicated accents just have them speak "proper" English.

  15. I'm not sure -- but the only Swedish person I know speaks English so well I originally thought she WAS English.

  16. To my ears, Swedes actually sound more American than English, especially given the pronunciation of consonants and the softness of the vowels. Which makes sense to me, given that the Midwest was almost entirely occupied by Scandies originally.

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