Distilling the best parts

Having seen the movie first, I began The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo more curious about what the differences would be between the two narrative forms.

I can think of two instances in which the translation from novel to movie was as good as the novel, if not better – Practical Magic and Fight Club.
The novel Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman is beautiful. I remember reading the beginning and wanting to read it aloud to someone; the language set the tone in such a lyrical way. No one was around so I read random sentences out loud to myself.
Night and Day, the aunts called them, and although neither girl laughed at this little joke or found it amusing in the least, they recognized the truth in it, and were able to understand, earlier than most sisters, that the moon is always jealous of the heat of the day, just as the sun always longs for something dark and deep.

Gillian broke hearts the way other people broke kindling for firewood.

It is a beautiful story about the power of love and fate and magic. And I love an omniscient narrator who clearly likes poetry.
The movie was great. I can watch it over and over.
The screenplay was distilled down to the main conflict that the sisters (Gillian and Sally) have to deal with – the evil ghost of an ex-lover who is haunting Gillian. Instead of having Sally run away from the old, rambling, magical home they were raised in, the movie is set firmly in that location. The movie becomes a charming story about two sisters finding their way back to each other and about Sally trusting in love. Good stuff.
Fight Club the movie was waaaaay better than Fight Club the book. You know the voice-overs that Edward Norton narrates? That’s the entire book. I couldn’t get into the first person narrator on the page. He’s annoying. Maybe I just find unreliable narrator’s frustrating. The movie is able to exploit the humor in the story, especially supposed love triangle.
And Brad Pitt strutted around without his shirt on – a lot.
For The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, I think I’ll call it a tie. I enjoyed the film so much and will tell everyone and their mother to go see it. Now that I’ve read the book, everyone and their mother should go read the book, too.
Obviously, there is so much that can be explained in detail in the novel form that just can’t be accomplished is film. More Vagner relatives in the book. A longer timeline in the book. A way longer time from start to when Mikael and Lisbeth meet in the book.
It’s worth it. All the extra back story and history and intrigue are fascinating.
Interestingly enough, I didn’t miss anything in the movie. You know how sometimes when you watch a movie that you know came from a book, even if you didn’t read the book, there are moments you know something was just chopped out with no solution? That’s the worst.
Such a good job was done with the screenplay that the changes were seamless. Lisbeth and Mikael meet cute quickly in the movie, so that timeline was just collapsed on itself. The steps they take to connect the dots are logical with lots of montages to indicate time and effort. (The book obviously can show us much more of the scenes that truly make up the montage.)
Enough background information is included about the two protagonists to justify the film’s story. Mikael was sentenced to serve time for fabricating a story about a prominent CEO. He could use some money so he takes a job investigating a forty year old crime. Lisbeth has some issues.
His ex-wife and daughter and sexual prowess are unnecessary for the film. Same with her attempts at normalcy with her boss and mother and previous guardian. I’m glad I got the detail in the book – Larsson had some great ideas. In order for a movie to keep pushing the plot forward, some elements need to fall by the wayside.
I don’t want to give anything away about the plot which kind of means I can’t talk about the book. There are so many moving parts that tie together by the end. Just know it is totally worth reading the novel or seeing the Swedish film or both. Larsson’s style is straightforward at times, a bit journalistic without being completely spare like Hemingway. He moves chronologically through the investigation, dropping in background information as necessary.
I have wondered if the matter-of-fact style of the prose is Larsson’s work or the translator, Reg Keeland. The word ‘anon’ is used at least three times by my count. Laura Miller attributes this to Larsson.
I do wish the original title would have been used for the translation. The Swedish title translates to Men Who Hate Women which has much more to do with the point of the story than a tattoo. Lisbeth Salandar has a more integral tattoo in the book. Also, in the book the dragon tattoo seems pretty small – on her shoulder, I think – but the movie shows it as taking up her entire back.
At the end of the day I loved it.
One of the best books I’ve read this year.

2 thoughts on “Distilling the best parts

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