A phenomenon swept the nation a while ago–a fascination with the works of Stieg Larsson in the form of a spunky young woman named Elsbeth and Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist and researcher. Now, I avoided them for a long time because they just didn’t sound like my cup of tea. I finally gave in and read the first two pretty much only for market research (and only because someone lent them to me in paperback and I had a holiday weekend with nothing better to do).
While the plot itself is interesting and engaging, the book is a soap opera with a lot of extraneous details and characters that Larsson could very well do away with and halve the length of the book to no ill effect. But his characters are well rounded and engaging and the plot well structured. So, all in all, and enjoyable diversion but not enough so for me to actually track down the third book.
And then something interesting happened. Because it was a book published originally in Sweden, they actually got first crack at a movie adaptation. Once it had migrated over here and I could get a copy that had been dubbed (Netflix instant play totally failed me on that end), I happily sat down to watch. Of course, it had been a while since I had read the books and so I had forgotten just how violent and disturbing certain rape scenes were.
*SPOILERS AFTER HERE*
I found it very interesting how the adaptation handled these and other aspects of the novel. Most of it was verbatim, with a lot of the extraneous details gone because they just weren’t necessary in the first place, but the heterosexual rape scenes were violent. And I’m not talking a little violent, I’m talking “Oh, god, I think I’m going to have to skip this scene” violent. I’m not THAT squeamish, unless there’s a lot of viscera flying around, so this is unusual for me. A male roommate of mine who had sat down to watch promptly bailed and never came back. And the second one was no better. They were true to the book, I was just unprepared for them to not pull any punches and just go for it in those scenes.
But, at the climax of the movie, Mikael ends up in the dungeon of the bad guy and the book becomes very homoerotic, with overtones of rape. Mikael is strung up, in his birthday suit, while the baddie tries to decide what to do with him because he’s “never had a man down here before.” But in the Swedish movie, every last homoerotic overtones were completely gone. Just *pft* gone. My brain immediately started saying, “So, it’s okay to show a woman get horribly raped, and then her getting her brutal revenge, but you can’t even show the suggestion of man on man rape? Interesting.” I’m not sure if it’s a cultural thing, or what, but it just struck me as odd that it was okay when it was heterosexual, but not homosexual.
And then the movie made another change that I just plain didn’t like. In the book, Lisbeth chases the bad guy out, he gets in his car and speeds away and she gets on her bike. As the high-speed chase commences, they zig zag along until the baddie commits suicide by ramming a truck head on. Dead bad guy. In the Swedish film, he accidentally runs off the road, she climbs down the embankment, and he begs her to help him out of the mangled car. Instead, she very calmly lights up the car and walk away.
Now, this changes her personality and character development quite a bit. Yes, she has lit a person on fire before (with very good reason) but that is not her now. And yet, the movie makes the very deliberate move to have her kill the bad guy. While it sets up a nice little segue to the next story (titled The Girl Who Played With Fire) I think it took away some wonderful nuances to her character. It made her a bit too hard edged.
And now, a few years later, Hollywood just HAD to take a go at the film.
Now, I was very interested to see how the American version decided to handle the scenes that were changed for the Swedish film. They left out even more of the details of the novel (this time somewhat detrimentally. If you hadn’t read the book, there was no way you’d understand some of it.) But I was more interested in how it handled the rape scenes and the climax.
First, the heterosexual rape scenes were just as graphic and disturbing as in the Swedish film. I almost thought for a moment that they might tone them down due to a cinematographic technique used but no…no.
But when you got to the climax in the dungeon, it struck some sort of balance between the book and the Swedish film. That really disturbing line about having a man in the dungeon is definitely there, and the baddie partially undress Mikael, but it’s not as complete a humiliation as there is in the book. Which I for one was kind of happy about as I really wasn’t up for seeing Daniel Craig’s junk flapping in the wind, but I kind of wish they had toned down the heterosexual rape scenes as well. But at least they didn’t skip over the homoerotic nature of that scene altogether.
And the death of our baddie was again a sort of middle ground. The man does not commit deliberate suicide, but nor does Lisbeth kill him. After he loses control and crashes, Lisbeth is completely intent on going up to the car and shooting him, but the car explodes before she can get there. I can do without the suicide, I was just happy that they didn’t pollute Lisbeth’s character with a deliberate murder. I do really like that they made her capable of it, but she doesn’t actually follow through on it.
Now, what could these differences tell us? Is it simply a matter of cultural differences? I wouldn’t think so, because the book sold incredibly well in both Sweden and the U.S. and that dungeon scene is very sexually charged. Is it just more acceptable to show on screen here than there? Or was it simply a matter of the person who did the adaptation?
I think the more important change was in Lisbeth’s characterization in the crash scene. Regardless of whether the guy dies by suicide or not, I think it’s vitally important to stay true to Lisbeth’s character that she NOT kill him. Ever other time she has been wronged in the book, she’s taken a rather harsh revenge, but she’s left them alive. And for her to make the change and deliberately kill this man was just too large a leap for the character.
Anyway, those are my thoughts, feel free to leave yours below as to why you think the differences exist from book to movie to movie…