Steig Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has undergone several transformations and translations since 2004, when it was first published following his death. The trilogy’s first book was done in the year 2005 in Sweden, with the title “Män som hatar kvinnor”, which translates to English as “Men who hate women.” Three years later, the novel was published for an English audience and was titled “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” the increasing demand for the novel facilitated for the adaptation into films, a Swedish one in 2009, and an American one in 2011. The films stayed very original to the original story, and the adaptation was fruitful.
The narrator in the novel speaks in third person and is highly objective in his presentation of issues. However, he sometimes shows a degree of sympathy towards the characters taking the lead role in the story and so much sensitivity for the issues being portrayed in the themes of the novel. In addition, the narration in the novel successfully gives a unique insight into the thoughts and feelings of the characters through a well detailed description. However, narration as an element of literature, is not so easily transferable to film, and filmmakers are therefore faced with the challenge of having to express the information in the film the same way the book does. In this film, the descriptions of the characters have been done so well because we can actually see them, but the expression is less direct as far as the feelings and thoughts of the characters are concerned.
The characters’ feelings are portrayed through shot angles, music, and color, but the thoughts are not portrayed as clearly. The American film portrays the characters’ feelings so well when Salander goes through a sexual violation violent encounter with Nils Bjurman. She sits on her floor, with the scenery having a red-soaked background. The camera then zooms in on her bare back where we see her dragon tattoo. The camera then follows upwards to capture her head, and is fixated on her face upside down. The face looks vengeful and lifeless. The use of tilt shots at several points in the film conveys a classic horror, and thrill in some instances.
The Swedish film, on the other hand, relied more on personal dialogue and character expressions to portray emotion. Both films have the original basic storyline present, and are even faithful to some of the smallest details such as the side of the head that the bullet grazes Blumkvist, and the name on the fake passport held by Salander. Whereas it may be necessary to omit some parts of an original work in a novel, retaining some minor details portrays a sense of loyalty. However, there are a few unique modifications, especially around the themes of love and romance. In the original work, the characters become highly romantically involved, whereby no-one wants to commit to the other in terms of establishing a relationship. In the film adaptations, the romances and sexual encounters are removed. Unlike many other film productions, here, they are not just added for the sake of cinema. In the novel, Blomkvist is depicted as a commitment-phobe. His affair with his co-editor, Erika Berger, costs him his marriage. The affair however goes on throughout the book. He also sleeps with Cecilia Vanger on multiple occasions. Vanger is part of the family that he is investigating, and she later pulls out of their sexual involvement due to his casualness. The knowledge that he will not commit pushes her to break off.
Neither of these relationships are sexually present in the films. Removing them may have served to intensify the bond that exists between Salander and Blomkvist. However, it also eliminates the novelty and intensity in which the characters were involved with each other. Based on the encounters she has had with men, Salander does not trust any of them. In the novels, this is stated and proven severally and when she finally decides to take control of Blomkvist in Hedeby for a night, it is actually a bigger deal than the films present. The American film includes Berger in the sex life of Blomkvist. Including this and leaving out Vanger’s association served to avoid complicating the close to three-hour movie any more.
The major themes in the novel are well captured in the films, and the most prominent is the injustice and violence towards women. The theme, however, reads wider in the book, spreading to the way the government fails to protect its women. Every part of the novel is opened with a statistic about women violence, and continues to add details about the Swedish government’s outdated philosophies. In the films, this theme is purported expressly. The entire story’s plot is violence against women-contingent. Blomkvist is looking for Harriet Vanger, who, we are made to think she was killed in the beginning. Towards the end, we learn that she was not actually killed that day. She was indeed smuggled off the island because her own father had beaten and raped her on several occasions. Bjurman forces Salander to have oral sex on him, and even rapes her brutally during their next visit. The films hint at the past of Salander, where she faced abuse, dismissal from work, and violence because of her gender, personality, and appearance. The cinematography and acting in the American film are so much better than in the Swedish film. Both films have remained true to the original story in the novel, and do well to present the written word into the audio-visual text.