Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

MPAA (R) CNS/USCCB (O) Roger Ebert (3 1/2 Stars) Fr. Dennis (3 Stars with STRONG PARENTAL WARNING)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert's review -

What parents should know about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (directed by David Fincher, screenplay by Steven Zaillan based on the best selling book by the same name by Steig Larsson) is that this movie is a "hard R;" that is, it would make for truly inappropriate viewing for the vast majority of teens.

I can't think of any conceivable reason why a parent would want to take even a 15 year-old to see this movie, and unless there were particular circumstances in an older teen's life (for example an already present history of abuse in the teen's history) I don't see why a parent would want to take even an older minor to this movie at all.  I encourage parents to read the CNS/USCCB's review of this movie as well.

I write this because I know that the book The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has been an international young adult sensation and the 2009 Swedish version of the movie has had enjoyed a "cult" following among many young people as well.  Yet, the reader here (and parents especially) should note that what can perhaps be "glossed over" when described in words (or not carry as much impact) can become a different experience entirely when portrayed in a film: The protagonist of this story, Lisbeth Salander (played by Rooney Mara), who is "the girl with the dragon tattoo" in the story is shown in the movie being brutally sexually abused by her parole officer Bjurman (played by Yorick van Wageningen), and this abuse is shown as graphically as the censors would allow.

So parents, one last time -- unless you want to be asked by your teen "What did he make her do, when he ...?", "What did he mean, when he said ...?" -- don't take your kid/teen to this movie. 

This said, I do see value in the book and movie to both young adults in general and abuse victims in particular.  The over-riding theme of the book / movie is about hypocrisy and then on a staggering number of levels:

Remember here the book comes from Sweden: Sweden was nominally neutral during World War II.  Yet, as the book/movie point out many Swedes sympathized with the Nazis, and Sweden never had to confront collaboration with the Nazi regime.  The rich Swedish family, that journalist Mikael Blomkvist (played by Daniel Craig) was asked by the family's aging patriarch Hinrik Vanger (played by Christopher Plummer) to investigate had been riddled by Nazi-sympathizers, some of whom fought on the Nazi side in the war.

Even Hinrik appeared to appreciate some kind of link between this never confronted Nazi past and other ghosts in the family's closet.  Specifically, Mikael Blomkvist was hired by Hinrik Vanger to finally give him closure regarding a mystery that had haunted him for 40 years -- the abrupt and never explained disappearance of his 16 year-old grand-daughter Harriet (played by Moa Garpendal).  He always suspected that someone in his family was responsible for her disappearance (and presumed murder) but neither he nor the police were able to prove it.  Since Mikael Blomkvist had been a crusading journalist (and one who had run afoul with one of the Vanger family's financial rivals), after making a thorough background check of Blomkvist's own past (interesting, since the Vangers appeared to hold so many secrets) Hinrik hires Mikael to investigate his own family.

The movie is then largely about Mikael's investigation of the Vanger family, which eventually leads him to ask for further help.  And it is then that Lisbeth is brought into the mix: It was Lisbeth who had done the leg work for the Vanger family when they conducted the background check on Mikael.  Why?  Because a "ward of the state," nominally "insane" as far the State was concerned, she was completely under the radar.

When the Vangers suggest she work with Mikael on the case, after Mikael does a check on her, he comes back saying: "Who is this person?  I can't find a single thing about her.  And I'm _usually_ very good about finding these things."  He gets the reply: "You can't find anything on her, because her entire file is sealed as she's a technically ward of the state."

However, not only does she work "under the radar," her previous experience of having been abused, makes her remarkably good at "connecting the dots" that no one else, including Mikael had been able to do.  So yes, by the end of the film, the case gets solved.

The mystery, however, becomes almost beside the point.  The character of Lisbeth comes to the fore, and she is, indeed, a compelling one.  She's a victim, but she becomes also "an avenger," even if still a fundamentally wounded one.  She is a character, therefor, not unlike some of the brooding superheroes of American comic books -- a poor (and female) Bruce Wayne (Batman).

There are elements of her that are self-destructive.  Let's begin with the extensive tattoos and all the piercings.  But it doesn't end there.  She is portrayed as being on the aggressive side sexually at one point seducing, indeed, all but simply "taking" her coworker/Boss Mikael.  (Mikael is portrayed as having a daughter only a few years younger than Lisbeth...).  But despite her learned assertiveness bordering on agressiveness, to the "Dragan Tattoo's" series' credit, it's clear that she still doesn't really get what she wants.  She's tough, she wins, but ... she remains fundamentally alone.

Very, very interesting.  Much perhaps for a young adult to contemplate.  However, I reiterate the warning to parents.  This film is rated "R" with just reason.  So with very few exceptions (and then only honestly if abuse has somehow already been part of your child's life) I can't see any value for teens to see this movie before they could see it on their own as adults.

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