The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo: Book And Movie Versions

Having seen both the Swedish and American versions of the movie, the differences between them drove me to finally read the book to reconcile all of them.

This is not a comprehensive comparison, just some of the things that I noticed or that annoyed me.

Major spoilers beyond the break! Do not go further if you have not seen at least one of the movies and read the book.

The entire book rests on a misinterpretation:

That the flowers arriving yearly are from a murderer and not, as intended, a secret signal from Harriet to confirm she’s alive.

This is reinforced by the original mysterious disappearance of Harriet taking place on an island with one way on and off it, a single bridge that was blocked by an accident.

Never asked:

1) Who else knows she gave you the flowers before she disappeared?
2) Did anyone else in the family travel to the places the flowers were posted from?

Because, gee, there’s the answer to the second right in the book:

“I assume it was Anita who posted the flowers.”

“She worked for an airline and flew all over the world. She posted them from wherever she happened to be.”

Decades of investigation and no one thought of something so fundamental? Occam’s razor!

Lisbeth’s first appearance, book and both movies:

Salander was dressed for the day in a black T-shirt with a picture on it of E.T. with fangs, and the words I AM ALSO AN ALIEN. She had on a black skirt that was frayed at the hem, a worn-out black, mid-length leather jacket, rivet belt, heavy Doc Marten boots, and horizontally striped, green-and-red knee socks. She had put on make-up in a colour scheme that indicated she might be colourblind. In other words, she was exceptionally decked out.

Studying the book and both movies is an education in how movies are made and the great difference between books and movies. Like here:

In the second week of February Salander’s laptop fell victim to an accident that was so uncalled for that she felt an urgent desire to kill someone. She had ridden her bike to a meeting at Milton Security and parked it behind a pillar in the garage. As she set her rucksack on the ground to put on the bike lock, a dark red Saab began reversing out. She had her back turned but heard the cracking sound from her rucksack. The driver didn’t notice a thing and, unwitting, drove off up the exit ramp.

However, in the movies, Lisbeth’s notebook is destroyed in, respectively, an attack and a bag snatch:

Interestingly, both happen in the subway. I think the American screenwriter was, ahem, influenced by the Swedish ones. The only time there’s subway violence in the book is a mention of Lisbeth having once kicked a guy in the head because he had groped her.

As a side note, for god’s sake, don’t do something like this in your book because look how ridiculous this is some seven short years later, in 2012:

Unsurprisingly she set her sights on the best available alternative: the new Apple PowerBook G4/1.0 GHz in an aluminium case with a PowerPC 7451 processor with an AltiVec Velocity Engine, 960 MB RAM and a 60 GB hard drive. It had BlueTooth and built-in CD and DVD burners.

Best of all, it had the first 17-inch screen in the laptop world with NVIDIA graphics and a resolution of 1440 x 900 pixels, which shook the PC advocates and outranked everything else on the market.

In terms of hardware, it was the Rolls-Royce of portable computers, but what really triggered Salander’s need to have it was the simple feature that the keyboard was equipped with backlighting, so that she could see the letters even if it was pitch dark. So simple. Why had no-one thought of that before?

Aside from that, Larsson mentions the iBook a lot, which also horribly dates the work.

Another way in which the American screenwriter was, um, influenced by the Swedish movie is another divergence from the book. This:

Bjurman was in pain. His muscles were no use to him. His body seemed to be paralysed. He could not remember if he had lost consciousness, but he was disoriented. When he slowly regained control over his body he discovered that he was lying naked on his bed, his wrists in handcuffs and his legs spread painfully apart. He had stinging burn marks where electrodes had touched his body.

In both movies, Bjurman is on the floor, not on the bed.

The Bible verses. Book:

“Pappa, I’m not going to proselytise. It doesn’t matter to me what you believe, and I’ll always love you. But I think you should continue your Bible studies.”

“Why do you say that?”

“I saw the quotes you had on the wall,” she said. “But why so gloomy and neurotic? Kisses. See you later.”

In the Swedish movie, it’s Lisbeth who cracks the code and emails Blomkvist:

In the American movie, it’s Blomkvist’s daughter who informs him:

Here’s something really, really weird in the book:

Salander was no Bible reader — she did not even own one — but that evening she went over to Högalid Church and with some difficulty she managed to borrow a Bible. She sat on a park bench outside the church and read Leviticus. When she reached Chapter 12, verse 8, her eyebrows went up. Chapter 12 dealt with the purification of women after childbirth.

How could Lisbeth not find a Bible online?

In the book, Lisbeth drives Blomkvist to a hospital to get stitches for his head wound. In the Swedish movie, a bandage is shown after a scene change. In the American movie, Lisbeth stitches the wound with dental floss.

The movies diverge from the book with the escape of Martin Vanger:

Salander turned her head just as Martin Vanger disappeared out the door. She got up, grabbed the pistol, checked the magazine and flicked off the safety. She looked around and focused on the keys to the handcuffs, which lay in plain sight on the table.

“I’m going to take him,” she said, running for the door. She grabbed the keys as she passed the table and tossed them backhanded to the floor next to Blomkvist.

He tried to shout to her to wait, but he managed only a rasping sound and by then she had vanished.

There is no gun in the Swedish movie. Lisbeth is still chasing Martin with the golf club:

The American version has the gun but also guts Lisbeth’s character by having her ask Blomkvist, “May I kill him?”

Here is something all of the screenwriters either missed or just chose to ignore:

She saw the headlights of a truck approaching. Martin Vanger did too. He increased his speed again and drove straight into the oncoming lane. Salander saw the truck swerve and flash its lights, but the collision was unavoidable. Martin Vanger drove straight into the truck and the sound of the crash was terrible.

Salander braked. She saw the trailer start to jackknife across her lane. At the speed she was going, it took two seconds for her to cover the distance up to the accident site. She accelerated and steered on to the hard shoulder, avoiding the hurtling back of the truck by two yards as she flew past. Out of the corner of her eye she saw flames coming from the front of the truck.

She rode on, braking and thinking, for another 150 yards before she stopped and turned around. She saw the driver of the truck climb out of his cab on the passenger side. Then she accelerated again. At Åkerby, about a mile south, she turned left and took the old road back north, parallel to the E4. She went up a hill past the scene of the crash. Two cars had stopped. Big flames were boiling out of the wreckage of Martin’s car, which was wedged underneath the truck. A man was spraying the flames with a small fire extinguisher.

The Swedish movie:

The American movie:

The similarity of how they ignored that is striking.

What they both missed is the symmetry of the book. Martin Vanger dies in the kind of crash that originally took place on the bridge the day Harriet disappeared!

The Swedish movie also throws in some dialogue in the aftermath of Martin Vanger’s death, between Blomkvist and Salander, that is nowhere in the book and changes both characters — Blomkvist becomes a lecturing prat and Salander a sadist.

Until I read the book, I favored Noomi Rapace’s portrayal of Lisbeth. But it turns out that, aside from that grating and weird faux Swedish accent she affected, Rooney Mara’s Lisbeth was closer physically and behaviorally (mostly) to the book’s Lisbeth. I’m not sure either actress actually understood Lisbeth, though.

This is Lisbeth:

“He said that he had never touched another man—except his father. That made me think that…well, the only possible conclusion is that his father raped him. Martin called it ‘his duty.’ The sexual assaults must have gone on for a long time. He was raised by his father, so to speak.”

“Bullshit,” Salander said, her voice as hard as flint.

Blomkvist stared at her in astonishment. She had a stubborn look in her eyes. There was not an ounce of sympathy in it.

“Martin had exactly the same opportunity as anyone else to strike back. He killed and he raped because he liked doing it.”

“I’m not saying otherwise. But Martin was a repressed boy and under the influence of his father, just as Gottfried was cowed by his father, the Nazi.”

“So you’re assuming that Martin had no will of his own and that people become whatever they’ve been brought up to be.”

Blomkvist smiled cautiously. “Is this a sensitive issue?”

Salander’s eyes blazed with fury. Blomkvist quickly went on.

“I’m only saying that I think that a person’s upbringing does play a role. Gottfried’s father beat him mercilessly for years. That leaves its mark.”

“Bullshit,” Salander said again. “Gottfried isn’t the only kid who was ever mistreated. That doesn’t give him the right to murder women. He made that choice himself. And the same is true of Martin.”

Blomkvist held up his hand.

“Can we not argue?”

“I’m not arguing. I just think that it’s pathetic that creeps always have to have someone else to blame.”

And this:

Salander stopped and filled her tank at a petrol station north of Uppsala. She had been riding doggedly, staring straight ahead. She paid quickly and got back on her bike. She started it up and rode to the exit, where she stopped, undecided.

She was still in a terrible mood. She was furious when she left Hedeby, but her rage had slowly dissolved during the ride. She could not make up her mind why she was so angry with Blomkvist, or even if he was the one she was angry with.

She thought of Martin Vanger and Harriet Fucking Vanger and Dirch Fucking Frode and the whole damned Vanger clan sitting in Hedestad reigning over their little empire and plotting against each other. They had needed her help. Normally they wouldn’t even have said hello to her in the street, let alone entrust her with their repellent secrets.

Fucking riff-raff.

And this:

Salander studied Berger’s elegant clothes and self-confident manner and decided after ten seconds that she was most likely not going to be her best friend.

And this:

She went around with the attitude that she would rather be beaten to death than take any shit.

And she always got revenge.

All of that was scraped away in both movies.

And although I thought Stieg Larsson understood his own character, I was disgusted to read, in here, this from him:

Lisbeth Salander is the exception to this quite simply because she is a sociopath with psychopathic traits, and does not function like ordinary people. She does not have the same concepts of “right” and “wrong” as normal people, but she also has to face up to the consequences of that.

Um, WTF?

I think I better just shut up and end this post right here.

Oh, one more thing: There is no cat in the Swedish movie.



Filed under Writing

5 responses to “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo: Book And Movie Versions

  1. Great post.

    If the author didn’t understand his own character, then surely the actresses could not be expected to?

    As I said on Twitter, I only saw the US film. However, Lisbeth clearly had a conscience (chose to ignore “right” and “wrong” because “right” had failed her so often) and had a solid code of honor. A sociopath (who is born, not made, from everything I can gather) has neither. She’s not crazy in the least. She’s been betrayed too many times and has trust issues.

    Frankly, I forgot about the flowers. They were NEVER mentioned again. On, say, CSI or L&O, I would have noticed that. I blame the length of the movie and all the window dressing.

  2. ange

    I will be seeing the movie.


  3. I haven’t seen either of the movies yet, but this disappoints me. I just finished the book since I wanted to read it before being influenced by the film. From what you’ve pointed out it sounds like they made it worse instead of cleaning up some of the ragged edges.

    I was also dismayed to see what Larsson said about Lisbeth Salander. People in real life are sometimes filled with contradictions, but those comments better explain many of the inconsistencies in her behavior throughout the story. I completely agree with you; he doesn’t seem to have a good understanding of her at all, and it’s a real let-down to find out that there wasn’t more thought given to it than that. After all the hype I had expected something deeper than that.

    Good point about the ephemeral nature of technical specs and product names, although that didn’t bother me as much. My problem with it was that the level of detail and irrelevance pulled me out of the story to the point that I wondered if they were “product placements” and Larsson was experimenting with new revenue streams by introducing “sponsored ads” to his book!

    • mikecane

      Putting tech in books is always a landmine that needs to be swerved around.

      As for Larsson about Lisbeth, I was wondering if maybe her behavior in the next two books bears him out? But I’ve seen the other two movies and I still disagree with him. Then again, those were the movies, not the books.

    • Tiffany

      You may want to give the film a try but I totally see where you are coming from. Some die hards of this genre have enjoyed the swedish version of the film. Just a thought. Have you read Threshold and Just Before The Dawn by They are books similar to the Tattoo. Kozek’s writing compelling and if you like noir you’ll enjoy it.

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