26 Dec 11

Why Dragon Tattoo Flopped

Looks like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo flopped. Not a shocker.

Taking a perfectly good Swedish movie that has done fantastically well in the international market and remaking it in the English language shows that movie executives believe that Americans are too dumb to want to watch a movie with subtitles. Well, okay, some Americans are too dumb to watch a movie with subtitles. In this case, those people wouldn’t matter because the Millennium Trilogy appeals to people interested in dark, complex, intelligent plots that get uncomfortably up close to serious social problems. People like that already watched all three of the Swedish-language flicks, and they don’t want to watch a sad remake made by people who believe that viewers aren’t smart enough to connect with a film that isn’t in their native language.

This is a constant problem with translation. The power of the original can become seriously compromised as works are taken out of their author’s original framework and remade into something for a different culture. In this case, the titles were softened and made sexy because in America, you have to use a woman’s body to sell pretty much anything. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is completely removed from the original, powerful message of the Swedish title: Men Who Hate Women. Lisbeth is not a girl in this book; she is twenty-four. If “Men Who Hate Women” was too controversial for the English language market, they could have at least not infantilized the main character by referring to her as a child. It’s easy to see where they got it from. The literal title of the second book was kept: Flickan som lekte med elden, or “The Girl Who Played with Fire.” However, in this case the title refers to the child Lisbeth and the plot delves into her early life and how it continues to affect her as an adult. The title works, but unfortunately it gave American publishers the idea of a “girl” and they ran with it. The last book, Luftslottet som sprängdes or “The Air Castle that Blew Up” was retitled The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest.

Lisbeth Salander was written to represent everything that thousands of years of sexism has done to women: she has been abused, ignored, shot, raped, deprived of her rights, buried alive, blamed for crimes she did not commit, and then vilified for becoming exactly what her abusers sculpted her into. Yet despite that she overcomes it all to be vindicated with the help of men and women who work together to move on from the crimes of the past. Changing the title to focus on the skin of a mysterious woman rather than the central theme of the plot was the first mistake. I’m sure this was deliberate; Americans are much less comfortable with addressing gender inequality than Scandinavians.

It’s impossible that an English language version made so soon after the originals could have escaped being called a rip-off. Americans who are smart enough to find out about these books and appreciate their message were also smart enough to see the original Swedish films, which weren’t afraid to be potent, ambiguous, and challenging. American filmgoers that smart won’t be impressed with movie producers who think they need some kind of cultural mediation performed by Hollywood.

Just in case you’re still wondering if you should go check this one out, I’d just like to remind you that all three original films are on Netflix. And you won’t have to deal with teenagers on their mobiles if you stay away from the theater.