OK, so you have to suspend disbelief even to begin, but you do anyway with this film, with the title character, Lisbeth Salander, being so smart she can hack anywhere, anytime, and so abused she’s nearly demented, and so mean she can reverse a rape, and so socially awkward that she doesn’t even bother responding to common niceties like “Hello, how are you?” and somehow giving off an asexual vibe while being functionally bisexual. And she’s only 23? Well, yes, a dragon tattoo on her back would be the least of her startling proclivities. But somehow relative newcomer Rooney Mara pulls off this unique, demanding, almost-iconic part convincingly, and this just might be her “breakthrough role.”
Daniel Craig plays Mikael Blomkvist, a once-respected feature writer, now disgraced because of some expose he had written about a corporate huckster, when one of his primary sources was a plant by the slick huckster, who could then successfully prove libel. Mikael has job security because he’s carrying on an affair with his editor, but he can’t stand her charity, so he resigns, and then accepts this strange invitation to do research for a private citizen, Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), who lives on a remote family compound and wants Mikael to find out what really happened to his niece, who disappeared, as a teenager, 30 years before. No body was ever found. It seems the family relationships are more than convoluted, and because there is a successful family-owned business, all of them have money, so they can do, or not do, precisely as they please, and one of the things they refuse to do is get along with each other.
Mikael quickly realizes that he’s in a quagmire, so he enlists the aid of the mysterious young researcher whom Vanger hired to do a background check on him, because she was so thorough and so unobtrusive. Enter Lisbeth Salander, who apparently is still a ward of the state, with a guardian who indulges her, but when he suddenly has a stroke, a temporary guardianship turns out to be yet another emotional nightmare in a life already filled with them. Yes, she looks like some goth-punk-nihilist with attitude, but with a raw energy that demands attention even while pretending not to seek it.
All this conflicting data will cause some confusion in the viewer, because the story is not strictly linear, and because there are gaps in the information provided, and there are some viewers who will be frustrated by this kind of plot collage. There are other viewers who will be offended by the rather explicit sexuality, both consensual and non-consensual, yes, as if participating as an unwitting voyeur in some sick sado-masochistic horror sequence, but somehow it all adds to the raw, disturbing, dark, seamy depravity of this film—which some will revel in, and some will be repulsed by, but you can’t help but be affected.
It’s certainly not for everyone. Seeing “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” will at least give you an idea of what the fuss has been about, both with the books and the films. But it’s definitely not family-friendly entertainment.
Ronald P. Salfen is interim pastor of St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas.