…and the quest to see everything

2011: David Fincher’s “Dragon Tattoo”

I was having an hour-long conversation with a critic who will choose to name himself if he wants to. I choose for his anonymity because my few disagreements with some of his arguments will make me look like the kind of douche who uses the internet to talk back. I have to write about the movie we talked about weeks after I saw it, I guess. Meant no harm.

Our conversation got to his dislike of rape revenges, leading to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. He dislikes the book – yay! – Oplev’s adaptation – hated that too! – and Fincher’s version. Wait, what? That movie is gunning for a place in my list top movies of 2011! People who apparently watch this polished turd – my words – wouldn’t be caught dead in an equally schlock-y Saw series.

I agree that Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) is a false and misguided conception of the left-wing’s more extreme version of himself, stemming from white male guilt that does more harm than good. Speaking of fetishizations it also relies on the concept that rich people makes Charles Manson’s childhood seem normal. I explained to him that as a fifth-generation nobody that the riches are more like the Kings in The Descendants with some of “Revenge’s” Amanda Clarke.

I’m a 90’s kid but that’s exactly the problem, lumping him with other movies I outgrew. Most of what governs my taste as a film viewer is my re-education when I was in college, shoving away the shock violent quirk of 90’s American indie movies. Fincher always has ‘something missing’ anyway. Se7en is elegant yet chooses one form of elitism over another. Fight Club is boy stuff. Zodiac and The Social Network seem cold. TSN specifically feels like a missed opportunity as Sorkin’s one liners feel stunted through an emotionally distant lens. Ben Button is fine.

I was sceptical of Dragon Tattoo because of the bad reviews Alien 3 and Panic Room and if you add TSN‘s yucky gender politics I’d even conclude that Fincher doesn’t know women. But Dragon Tattoo pumped my adrenaline from the opening credits and as the movie continues, I exclaimed yeah! he’s back to form and these people are hitting each other! But why do I like that he’s back to form now even though I stopped liking his form for half a decade now? And why am I responding to this movie that’s supposedly more vulgar than his earlier work?

It’s the mood, isn’t it? Jeff Cornenweth’s cinematography of the snow and the cozy interiors. Lisbeth’s techno-gothic iFetish. Techno-gothic also applies to the howls escaping Martin Vanger’s (Stellan Skarsgard) Frank Lloyd Wright-esque house built on top of  a ‘laundry room’ on top of a priest’s house. I can almost hear Trent Reznor pressing down harder on his keyboard. A push and pull from the aesthetic making the subject simmer down.

The performances are also great, Fincher fleshing out scenes while screenwriter Steve Zaillian economizing the characters’ words. Mara is indisputably great under Fincher’s direction, screaming during the right times and deadpan in others. She can be as sexual aggressor as she is a victim, telling her elder cohort investigator/boyfriend Mikael Blomqvist (Daniel Craig) to keep his hand under her shirt, coldly demanding affection like Garbo in Ninotchka. The ending also feels relaxed, Martin’s words ‘immigrant whore’ a slightly suitable alternative to the elongated caricature of the book and Oplev’s movie.

This refining of schlock reminds me of Miss Bala, a festival favourite, Oscar-shortlisted version of a drug cartel movie. Same thing with how my family would turn their nose up on jeep gangster movies while Brilliante Mendoza’s Kinatay, gets recognized as the gritty film-making for which Filipino film gets recognized. But whole ‘nother parameters, making me wonder what kind of room cinema has for the needlessly sadistic.

The second part of this conversation is bat shit, which is why I ask you if I should post it.

8 responses

  1. “Ben Button is fine” Discuss. I….think….it mightbemyfavouriteFinchermovie. (Okay, maybe Fight Club, shrugs.) I bring it up, though, because it’s the film of his most in touch with its women, although they (like all the characters) are viewed through some gloriously rosy lenses (not a negative, though.)

    I think I’ve digressed, though. Rooney doesn’t work for me. At, least not very much. (I think she’s good.) The performance just feels so “thinking-thinking-thinking”. It might be the character, eh, okay. She doesn’t work as much for me, Craig – though – who I’ve been tetchy about forever is way more interesting to me in a way less defined role (is that even a character?) and yes, the acting is generally on point (love RW). And it looks gorgeous. Ultimately, I like it though. The fact that a “like” from me is a B- from me, though, is a topic for a whole other narrative.

    February 20, 2012 at 9:08 pm

    • There’s one scene on the movie that I keep making fun of, which deserves a post in itself. It”s on a different emotional plane than other Finchers which makes me hesitate on saying that I love it. And I agree that it’s his successfully girliest movie, but that’s just because Ben is surrounded by three women. It’s like Fellini. There’s so many women in both cases but does it feel like a feminine film. A huge part of it but not as a whole.

      Anyway, I don’t necessarily see Rooney’s performance as cerebral as it is a costume/posture/neck-up performance, to borrow the latter from one of the criticisms against her competitor. Fincher gives her enough freedom but I still don’t know her instincts as an actress to know whether she’s saying the lines the way she wants to. Either way, most consistent/least problematic performance, which I can’t say even with performances that got snubbed. I’d rather have consistent results as opposed to something risky and spotty like most of the nominated performances did.

      And it’s interesting that you’re questioning Mikael as a character but even though Dragon Tattoo is more him than Lisbeth, he’s the one who receives the information and no reworking of the story through acting can go around that. You’re right maybe in that he doesn’t contribute to what’s going on around him.

      February 20, 2012 at 9:43 pm

  2. Bbbb

    I don’t get what’s so “yucky” about the gender politics in The Social Network. I’m wondering which criticism you’re leveling against it, as I’ve heard a few different ones.

    As Amy Taubin put it, “Since the backlash has started, no, it isn’t a sexist movie; it’s a movie that exposes sexism in a culture that likes to think it has moved beyond all that.”

    February 20, 2012 at 10:06 pm

    • Facemash also had guys in it. Mark Zuckerberg started dating Priscilla Chan during Facebook’s first years and is still with her. Facebook’s COO is Sheryl Sandberg. I’m not sure if Facebook has sexist practices despite their inclusivity, and at least it allows women that as opposed to the script.

      It’s like criticising how there are no girls allowed in the tree house while just making a movie about the tree house. Movies should be able to examine the male psyche without having to rid of the female? It’s Sorkin accusing other institutions of sexism while these prejudices are actually stronger within him E.g. Moneyball.

      I’d like a link to the Amy Taubin piece to see the context. I don’t necessarily believe that representation is inclusion or tolerance but it sure helps. The only things I’ve read about TSN are local criticism and Ebert

      Speaking of which, the sexual politics in Dragon Tattoo are wonky too but less so.

      February 20, 2012 at 10:47 pm

  3. Bbbb

    I’m not sure if it’s online, but I have an issue of Artforum here wherein Taubin lists her favorite films of 2010. At #1 is TSN: “An adrenaline-pumping, coolly analytic, fast-talking look at a young Master of the Universe, obsessed with his start-up and untroubled by questions of loyalty or ethics. Brilliant direction, brilliant storytelling, and a brilliant performance by Jesse Eisenberg. And since the backlash has started…” That’s where it ends.

    The facts aside, the movie depicts misogyny in its characters; that doesn’t mean it’s a misogynist film any more than Taxi Driver is a racist film. (Arguable, I’m sure, but I’m not convinced.) The movie happens to be *about* these five guys (Zuckerberg, Saverin, Parker, Winklevi), so it seems inevitable that women would be relegated to supporting parts. But the movie does kick off with a scene (which the whole movie hinges upon) depicting Zuckerberg getting ripped to shreds by Rooney Mara’s character.

    To defend Sorkin for a moment (though I’m not a big fan), he’s written good roles for females in the past, on Sports Night and The West Wing. And regarding the facts, he claims it’s all based on deposition transcripts, and that nothing was invented, only condensed, rearranged, dramatized. Of course, that makes it a fiction, but that’s why it’s merely “based on a true story” and not a documentary.

    Promptly after the break-up/revenge, Zuckerberg explains that “[Erica] made a lot of that up.” And toward the end of the movie, Rashida Jones says, “whenever I hear emotional testimony, I assume 85 % of it is exaggeration.” “And the other 15%?” “Perjury. Creation myths need a devil.” The movie *is* pretty admittedly both a dramatization of those “emotional testimonies” and a “creation myth.”

    (Sorry for the long comment.)

    February 21, 2012 at 12:38 am

    • Ugh I KNEW I had to start reading ArtForum again. God I miss my art history days.

      Anyway, TSN is also based on Ben Mezrich’s The Accidental Billionaries which is a terrible book based on the testimonies. I also followed traces of the story online as it was happening. In that respect the story might be more male centred. But the sexism angle against these characters still feel like a tacked on accusation that throws the balance of the movie’s politics. And even if it’s fictionalized these nips and tucks will make some people’s heads turn.

      I haven’t seen Sports Night and my only knowledge of West Wing’s female representation is CJ Cregg (as a Mad Men I need to see a show with a young Elisabeth Moss). But he’s slid after his comeback. Sarah Paulson’s character in Studio 60 is an idealized muse, Julia Roberts in Charlie Wilson’s War a femme fatale. And yes, I’m writing that as if he can never win in my eyes but two dimensions aren’t good enough in writing characters.

      And thanks for the long comment, actually. I like these discussions about film.

      February 21, 2012 at 12:59 am

      • Bbbb

        This movie’s, um, complicated, I’ll give you that. There’s arguably some eating-your-cake-and-having-it-too going on, in that it sorta says “Zuckerberg is a misogynist,” then follows it up with “but maybe not? (Don’t sue us!)”

        And I do have problems with the Brenda Song character, though less for whatever sexism was part of her conception than with her existence as a screenplay function; she’s the “groupie” and the “Facebook’s not all it’s cracked up to be” message all rolled up into one crazy Asian chick!

        I haven’t read the Mezrich book. Heard it was bad though, yeah.

        February 21, 2012 at 1:53 am

  4. I actually like Brenda Song’s character and performance. She has the best line in the movie and she delivers it that make every other character seem comatose. She actually makes me think of what would have happened had Mike Nichols, who previously directed Sorkin’s Charlie Wilson’s War which is equally morally questionable but I like histrionics and stuff like that.

    And Mezrich’s book is a treat. “I’m describing sunlight in a story/ that doesn’t need it!” “I’m writing Edo’s shocked reactions!” “Turn me into a movie!” TSN is our generation’s Jaws.

    February 21, 2012 at 2:29 am

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