Morality in a Post Religious World:The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

In 1882 Friedrich Nietzsche penned perhaps one of the most profound, yet simplest sentences ever written: “God is dead”.

He did not mean that a God had died. What he intended is that humanity had finally gotten rid of the Judeo-Christian concept of an all knowing all loving God. By ridding the world of this fantasy of a perfect moral being Nietzsche also dismissed the theory of objective moral law.

David Fincher’s newest psychological thriller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a relentless, tense, dark, and fascinating adaptation of the worldwide best seller by Steig Larsson of the same name. By combining the brutal darkness that ran through Seven and the concentration on the investigative process of Zodiac Fincher has created a slick intelligent thrill ride. From the opening moments the film drips with an atmosphere of dread. The city is a cold place where evil takes resides, but antithetical to Leo Tolstoy for whom the countryside provided peace the countryside in Dragon Tattoo is where the real perversion lies hidden festering away. The viewer feels chilly just watching our male protagonist Mikel Blomkvist jot down clues in the middle of a frozen bleak winters day.

At its heart The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is traditional mystery with a demented twist. Disgraced journalist Mikel Blomkvist is hired by Henrick Verger to solve the decades old disappearance (he assumes murder) of his niece Harriet. Meanwhile the viewer is introduced to Lisbeth Salander, a private investigator who seems as cold as the weather. Played with wonderful complexity by Rooney Mara, Salander is a fascinating mix of both the vulnerable and the strong. Soon enough she is hired to help Blomkvist catch a killer who may have more victims on his repertoire than just that of Harriet Vanger.

What is impressive about David Fincher’s adaptation is that he elevates the mediocre source material into a memorable and haunting visit to the Cineplex. Simply put Fincher is a much better filmmaker than Larsson was a writer. Where The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo succeeds is in Fincher’s decision to make the audience part of the investigation. The editing, score, and shots engage us, the audience, in the murder investigation. We, along side Salander and Blomkvist are looking at old photographs for subtle clues or trying to piece together how Biblical texts connect with the current case. The mystery is ours for the taking and unraveling. We are disappointed when they hit dead ends, we are brought to the edge of our seats when the pieces fit together, and we are left unnerved by how vulnerable our detectives are. It is unfortunate that even David Fincher cannot escape the predicable climax of the mystery. Still he makes up for it by crafting one of the most suspenseful sequences I’ve seen all year right before the rather obvious wrap up.

The film version also manages to raise questions that the book never fully explored. What is most striking is Blomkvist and Salanders search for goodness in a post-religious world where God is dead. In the film evil takes the form of men who use their power to abuse and suppress woman. Harriet Vanger and Lisbeth Salander are both examples of young woman faced with extreme abuse and violence. How they react is in many ways different, yet as the audience comes to find out very similar as well. Goodness, I would say, in the universe of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is regaining power, being treated and treating others as equal individuals. Blomkvist is good because he allows Salander the power to be an individual and Salander is ultimately the saving heroine because she asserts her intelligence and power over evil men who would like nothing better than to perversely dominate woman. The struggle for power is a constant through out the film. All he characters fight for power, lose power, assert their power, and are ultimately saved because of their use of it. Power is their salvation.

One of the most interesting tangents explored in the film is the relationship between Blomkvist and Salander.  One night Salander randomly seduces Blomkvist. Why does she do this? Before we have only seen her be the recipient of sex whether it is a desired one-night stand or a brutal rape. Is it her way of rewarding Blomkvist for treating her as a human being? Or is it her way of asserting her equality with him? The blossoming bond (it isn’t a relationship) between the two detectives is certainly an interesting one that even opens up the possibility of romance amidst the cold dark Swedish landscape.

It has been awhile since American audiences have received such a solid psychological thriller. One with an intelligent plot well developed characters, and great suspense. The lighting, the score, the framing, and the editing is all top notch here. Although not without it’s faults The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is reason enough for adults to take a trip to the movie theatre this winter.

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