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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

By
John P. McCarthy
Source: Catholic News Service

As fans of the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson's "Millennium Trilogy" will attest, it's difficult to name a more flawed and fascinating protagonist in recent popular fiction than Lisbeth Salander.

The mixture of sympathy and unease she triggers was ably captured in the 2009 Swedish-language film version of Larsson's first volume -- and it also marks American director David Fincher's piercingly violent and sordid adaptation of the same tome: "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" (Columbia).

The circumstances and choices that render the title character so compellingly complex -- most notably, the heinous physical abuse she suffers and then vengefully commits -- are precisely what make this chilling crime thriller morally unsuitable. Menacingly gray and caustic, the world in which Lisbeth finds herself appears devoid of fixed ethical coordinates.

An intricately plotted whodunit, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" pits corrupt elements from Sweden's establishment against relatively disenfranchised individuals who have the skills to buck the old guard plus fend off most every other type of malefactor. Their own values are hardly above reproach, however.

His reputation in tatters following a libel trial, financial writer Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is hired by industrialist Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to investigate the disappearance of his niece 40 years prior. Henrik suspects members of his own fractious, secretive clan.

After laboring on his own for a time, Mikael joins forces with talented researcher and computer hacker Lisbeth (Rooney Mara), a 23-year-old ward of the state who is sexually exploited by her government caseworker Bjurman (Yorick van Wageningen).

Anti-social in the extreme, and sporting an array of punkish piercings and tattoos, Lisbeth has a brilliant mind and is adept at electronic surveillance and other fact-finding methods, many of them illegal. As the narrative moves back and forth between Stockholm and the remote island where the Vanger family resides -- and between the present day and the 1960s -- Lisbeth and Mikael discover that a serial killer may have been at work.

Fincher's proficiency in communicating the obsessive zeal that often drives investigative work, so evident in his film "Zodiac," finds a perfect match in Larsson's book. So too does the director's ability to translate the use of computers into an enthralling story, as he did in last year's "The Social Network."

Nevertheless, his exactitude regarding procedure and atmosphere can become exhausting, to the degree that we begin to empathize with the tremendous acting ensemble. Fincher and screenwriter Steven Zaillian don't flinch from explicitly re-creating the book's savage and graphic episodes, and it can't have been easy to take part in many of the scenes -- which are excruciating enough just to watch.

After a measured start, during which it initiates a riveting tale of evil exposed and thwarted, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" soon crosses the line into degradation. Lisbeth's vengeful decisions in response to her unfortunate plight, together with Mikael's own moral lapses (including adultery) undermine their quest for justice.

In addition, there's an antireligious motif manifest in the demonic crime spree, Mikael's skepticism about his teen daughter's Christianity, and in the Vanger family's attitude toward faith.

The film contains excessively graphic violence, including rape, torture and maiming; images of women sadistically murdered; antireligious undertones; strong sexual content, including explicit lesbian and nonmarital encounters and frequent nudity; and much crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is O -- morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R —restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

*****
John P. McCarthy is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.



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Alphonsus Rodriguez: Tragedy and challenge beset today’s saint early in life, but Alphonsus Rodriguez found happiness and contentment through simple service and prayer. 
<p>Born in Spain in 1533, Alphonsus inherited the family textile business at 23. Within the space of three years, his wife, daughter and mother died; meanwhile, business was poor. Alphonsus stepped back and reassessed his life. He sold the business and, with his young son, moved into his sisters’ home. There he learned the discipline of prayer and meditation. </p><p>Years later, at the death of his son, Alphonsus, almost 40 by then, sought to join the Jesuits. He was not helped by his poor education. He applied twice before being admitted. For 45 years he served as doorkeeper at the Jesuits’ college in Majorca. When not at his post, he was almost always at prayer, though he often encountered difficulties and temptations. </p><p>His holiness and prayerfulness attracted many to him, including St. Peter Claver, then a Jesuit seminarian. Alphonsus’s life as doorkeeper may have been humdrum, but he caught the attention of poet and fellow-Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins, who made him the subject of one of his poems. </p><p>Alphonsus died in 1617. He is the patron saint of Majorca.</p> American Catholic Blog People mess up, and it’s especially hard to watch as our children and other young people go down paths we know are likely to lead to heartbreak. Providing gentle guidance when it’s needed, and love even when that guidance isn’t followed, helps them to start fresh.

 
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