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The Adaptation Blog: Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
If the text had been made by an Irish film company in Ireland, would the filmic adaptation have been more accurate? asks Sophie Atherton

When looking at the adaptation of P.S. I Love You, the Americanisation of the text
played an important factor in the differences between the novel and film. Reflecting
on this, one must consider that if the text had been made by an Irish film company in
Ireland, would the filmic adaptation have been more accurate?

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a Swedish novel written by Stieg Larsson as a
part of ‘The Millennium Trilogy’. He wrote the series purely for his own pleasure
as he made no efforts to get them published once they were completed and the
manuscripts were only printed when they were found upon his death. The books
became instant best sellers, not only in Sweden but around the world. Thus Swedish
film company Yellow Bird bought the screen rights and manufactured all three novels
into films, each one set and filmed in Sweden as specified by the book.

Due to Yellow Bird being a Swedish company and the novels themselves being
Swedish, it is not surprising that the films were Swedish too. This aids the films
greatly when keeping to the initial narrative of the novel; when comparing this to
Americanized P.S. I Love You (2007), the difference in accuracy is great. Where
P.S. I Love You cut many characters, changed the setting and was forced to follow
Hollywood conventions, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo successfully managed to
avoid altering the plot in this way. The narrative follows the two protagonists Lisbeth
and Mikael, who become partners in order to find out what happened to a teenage
girl named Harriet, who disappeared forty years ago. Lisbeth is originally hired to
delve into Mikael’s history, both personal and professional, but after hacking his
computer and helping him solve a part of the mystery she joins him in his attempt to
discover the truth about the missing girl.

There are only slight character differences within The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
(2009), the main alterations being with Lisbeth. In the book, she is a more severe
character, making it harder for the reader to empathise with her. However, in the
film she is represented as more ‘human’, showing more emotion which was done
to make the audience more sympathetic towards her actions. The alternative would
have risked making her an anti-hero; characters in films that are from novels have
to be simplified to an extent in order to portray them in the manner that is intended
within the book. Novels often have to be compressed in order to be kept in an
acceptable time limit, and the simplification of characters aids this as the film does
not need to include every little detail to keep them precise.

Lisbeth also becomes a more active character within the film, this is partly due to
encourage the audience’s compassion towards the character, but it is also to remove
unnecessary character complications and link her more significantly with Mikael. For
instance, in the book Mikael’s daughter solves the mystery with the biblical numbers
in Harriet’s diary, whereas in the film Lisbeth emails Mikael the answers. As well as
the removal of Mikael’s daughter, they also removed the sections of the book that

involve Mikael and his colleague having a sexual relationship. This was more than
likely done to reduce the length of the film and remove any irrelevant information
that had little to do with the main plot. The removal of this backstory has little impact
as the audience learns a great deal about Mikael’s character without the addition
subplot; contrasting with Lisbeth who the audience know very little about. Even at the
end when a small amount of her past is revealed, the audience is still left in the dark
on the whole.

An additional difference to the manuscript is the order in which events occur. The
film alters Mikael’s time in prison so it occurs at the end of the film, rather than in
the middle as established in the novel. But this should not count against the film,
as despite this slight change, the director does not shy away from the controversial
rape scene within the book which if cut out would have had a greater impact. Quite a
provocative subject, as Justice Secretary Ken Clarke has found out to his detriment
recently; the rape scene between Lisbeth and Nils within the film is a particularly
graphic and uncomfortable part, quite like the book. She filmed the attack as he had
previously forced him to perform a sexual act for access to her money, which he has
control over because he is her guardian. As retaliation and in order to gain control of
her finances again, blackmails him by showing him the video before telling him she
will show it to the press and police if he does not agree to her conditions. The film
does not shy away from this matter and displays exactly as it is depicted in the book,
warts and all.

This explicit portrayal of rape within the film displays Lisbeth’s strength; instead
of letting the incident ruin her, she takes her revenge punishing Nils making him
her subordinate and tattooing "I am a sadistic pig and a rapist" on his chest. She
becomes an unconventional hero due to her reaction and retaliation to the. An
American anti-sexual violence organisation called the ‘Rape, Abuse and Incest
National Network’ (RAINN) responded positively to the film for the authentic and
realistic portrayal or rape and the consequences of sexual violence. They created a
campaign off the back of the film to encourage screenings and frequent discussions
of the text.

As previously mentioned, there are alterations to the narrative of the novel, but
these do not hinder the flow in any way. The novel was always going to have to be
compressed into ‘movie time’ due to its sheer size. It could be argued that the film
hurried through the storyline, as is the case with many adaptations, but it does not
seem that way simply due to the length of the film at 152 minutes long. The minor
alterations matter very little when taking into account the accuracy of films narrative
in comparison to the book. There are many key moments that many critics claimed
could have been removed as they seem irrelevant to the main story, such as the
earlier subplot involving Lisbeth and Nils. Conversely, if they had cut this section out
it would impact on the following films, The Girl Who Played with Fire (2009) and The
Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest (2009), as the relationship between these two
characters is developed further and influential to the narratives.

Another big issue to consider is the death of the writer; if Larsson had been alive
how accurate would he have wanted the films to be, and how much would he have
allowed to be cut from the original narrative? His death was beneficial to the film
as it seems to have made the film more accurate to the novel as a sign of respect
for Larsson. If they had altered or removed any key parts, like in P.S. I Love You
(2009), his fans would have probably slated the film and it could have been a flop.
For example, many people may be put off by the fact that the film is in Swedish, but
if it was in English and produced by an American or English film company it could
have changed radically. Either way, this is a frequent misconception with foreign film.
Some of the most affluent films are of a foreign language, as Pans Labyrinth (2006)
has displayed with it becoming one of the highest grossing foreign films in history;
it has made $779,427 in the US, and £298,432 in the UK to date. The Girl with the
Dragon Tattoo itself has won many awards for Best Foreign Film, including the 2010

All in all the film did not detract away from the book in excess, and has been just
as successful as the book. The film enhanced the plot, providing its own retelling of
Larsson’s story; it makes the book successfully come alive. In Norway and Denmark
it has had the highest amount of views for a Swedish film and Sweden it had over
a million admissions. It is clear to see that because the film kept the setting and
characters the same, it has become a far more accurate adaptation. This will be put
to the test with the release of the American version of the book due later this year
starring Daniel Craig. We shall soon see if the Americanisation of foreign texts does
impact upon the originality and portrayal of the novel as severely as it did with P.S. I
Love You (2009).

Sophie Atherton is a young writer based at York St John.