David Fincher is a director known for doing things his way, telling the hip fashion magazine W that he was offered The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo because SONY knew that “no one does perv quite like this guy.” Doing things his way has also meant a script that will deviate from the book. Even the ending will be changed, he has said, “to make it more interesting.”
So how much change will he inject into the story?
We are beginning to catch a glimpse or two via the evolving Web site for the film. It includes a slide show profiling the eighteen characters to be featured in the film. Salander and Blomkvist are there, obviously, as well as the important supporting players readers will recognize—characters such as Henrik Vanger, Dirch Frode, Erica Berger, Martin Vanger, Dragan Armansky, Nils Bjurman, and so forth.
Each profile is paired with an evocative still of the actor playing the character. All seem a good match to the images of them evoked by the book except one: Stellan Skarsgard, the accomplished actor who portrays the arch villain Martin Vanger. Stieg Larsson writes him as a “short, plump man with thick hair.” Skarsgard, on the other hand, is a lanky six feet, three inches tall, something even the dark shades of his makeup cannot hide.
But we digress. The most intriguing part of the profiles offered up on the SONY site is the way some of the book’s arguably lesser characters have been re-imagined—clearly to spread around plenty of suspicion as well as to enhance the lurking darkness Fincher has already given us in the trailer.
The profile of Gunnar Nilsson, for example, accurately follows the book in that he is described as the caretaker of the Vanger estate. But SONY/Fincher take him a large step closer to the dark side, teasing us with the line that “if a gunshot rings out on the island, it’s probably Gunnar hunting in the woods.” But in the book there is no mention whatever of Gunnar in connection with firearms, much less as being a hunter. It is true that after his narrow escape from an assassination attempt Blomkvist sees Nilsson watering his yard and wonders how long he’s been there—but he equally wonders about a number of other logical suspects. In the end there is not a single hint that Nilsson might have been the shooter. It is Martin Vanger, Blomkvist discovers later, who owns a “moose rifle.”
Another hint of change is contained in the profile of Annika Blomkvist, Blomkvist’s younger sister. As the site accurately notes, she is indeed a specialist in family law focused on the abuse of women. But Blom is mentioned only twice in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and then only in the context of family (when Blomkvist visits her family on Christmas Eve she gives him a hug and a kiss on the cheek). It is not until the third book in the trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, that Blom emerges to play the crucial role as Lisbeth Salander’s lawyer in the dramatic courthouse scenes that lie at the heart of “Hornet’s Nest”. Might Fincher be elevating her status here to intensify the “men who hate women” theme of “Dragon Tattoo”? Might he already be setting us up for “Girl” III?
Anna Nygren, Henrik Vanger’s housekeeper, is also included in the coterie of major characters. Her profile ends with a foreboding “she may have been the last person to see Harriet alive.” Yet the book casts no suspicion on her whatever. She is in only a handful of scenes, each time focused on her actions as a deeply caring person and a loyal employee, at one point serving Vanger and Blomkvist “a great quantity of bacon pancakes with lingonberries.” Our guess: Fincher, in a clever allusion to the kind of English closed-door mysteries Stieg Larsson so loved, has given her the classic “the butler did it” role.
Finally, a puzzling piece of omission.
The film site’s profile of Pernilla Blomkvist, Mikael Blomkvist’s daughter, is true to the book. Blomkvist indeed disapproves of her zealously embracing religion and, yes, he feels remorse for the lack of attention he has given her over the years. But while SONY and Fincher pump up the role of some of the other characters, with Pernilla they choose to drop not even the slightest hint as to why she rightfully belongs in the top tier of the story’s major players. As readers of the book know, her visit to Blomkvist’s cabin on Hedeby provides the single most important clue toward the solution of the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Harriet Vanger. It is Pernilla who provides the tipping point that shifts the story from try to figure out the “why” to the path of exposing the “who.”