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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    ‘Tattoo’ leaves its mark on the viewer

    Niels Arden Oplen

    The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

    Music Box Films

    Playing at the Loft Cinema

     

    Score: B

     

    The first time I heard about “”The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”” was from a girl I was dating. She recommended the book as an exciting thriller. With such a title, I immediately dismissed it as presumably trite. At the time, I failed to understand that its proper Swedish translation is “”Men Who Hate Women”” — quite the superior title — and that its subject matter is anything but trite.

    Today, years later, I sat down to watch the film adaptation knowing just as little as when I first was told to check out the source. If I ever build a time machine, I will return to my youth and berate Past Zach for his blind elitism, for if we are to follow the golden rule that the book is always better than the movie, “”Tattoo”” must be a deeply riveting read.

    As for the film, it is hypnotic.

    The film’s tendency to explore vengeance and vigilante investigation propels it through its tedious origin story. Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is a wrongly accused journalist who, before serving time for a trumped-up libel suit, is hired to investigate a 40-year-old missing person case. Along the way he meets troubled hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), and the two form a bizarre detective team.

    Seriously, that is a boring summary, but that is the bare bones plot of the film. What ultimately separates “”Tattoo”” is its utter disregard for mainstream acceptance. While the narrative arc is that of standard detective fare — half of the film is spent looking at photo negatives and newspaper clippings — the themes addressed are decidedly edgy. Tackling such heavy matters as incest, anti-Semitism and sexual bartering with unflinching brutality, “”Tattoo”” mines palpable suspense from a tired genre.

    This is not to say that “”Tattoo”” is exploitive; quite the opposite, it handles grave subjects with great reverence. But just like its eponymous protagonist, “”Tattoo”” has a serious mean streak.

    Much of this comes from Lisbeth’s tortured existence. Balancing a world-weathered cynicism with an endless sequence of violent abuse, Lisbeth’s life is the polar opposite of ideal. Anti—social and mercurial, Lisbeth’s demeanor fluctuates from despondent aggression to focused problem-solving. Her interactions with various strata of society are some of the most impressive parts of the film, as she doesn’t fit in anywhere, but as a viewer, you wish she did.

    Running two-and-a-half hours, “”Tattoo”” struggles to find its initial footing, as Lisbeth’s near-satirical level of abuse from men lacks context — something I pray is explored more in the two sequels set to be released later this year — and Mikael’s investigation putters around without a lead. Once the two meet up, the film is sheer bliss, as their relationship relishes its complexity.

    Rather than go down the comfortable path of opposites attracting, the relationship between Lisbeth and Mikael explores the chaotic trajectory of two opposing elements existing in symbiosis. Both are drawn into the other’s world — Lisbeth approaches stability, while Mikael flirts with vigilantism — through authentic gestures and legitimate characterizations. Even their intimate moments avoid simple characterizations, as Lisbeth’s anti-social attitude provides the largest European wall since Berlin.

    With an American remake on the way in 2012, it behooves you to check out this riveting Swedish import before Hollywood whitewashes the bracing plot elements. Don’t make the same mistake as me and sit on this intriguing product. This “”Tattoo”” is well worth the pain.

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