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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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Anthony Zaccaria: At the same time that Martin Luther was attacking abuses in the Church, a reformation within the Church was already being attempted. Among the early movers of the Counter-Reformation was Anthony Zaccaria. His mother became a widow at 18 and devoted herself to the spiritual education of her son. He received a medical doctorate at 22 and, while working among the poor of his native Cremona in Italy, was attracted to the religious apostolate. He renounced his rights to any future inheritance, worked as a catechist and was ordained a priest at the age of 26. Called to Milan in a few years, he laid the foundations of three religious congregations, one for men and one for women, plus an association of married couples. Their aim was the reform of the decadent society of their day, beginning with the clergy, religious and lay people. 
<p>Greatly inspired by St. Paul (his congregation is named the Barnabites, after the companion of that saint), Anthony preached with great vigor in church and street, conducted popular missions and was not ashamed of doing public penance. </p><p>He encouraged such innovations as the collaboration of the laity in the apostolate, frequent Communion, the Forty Hours devotion and the ringing of church bells at 3:00 p.m. on Fridays. </p><p>His holiness moved many to reform their lives but, as with all saints, it also moved many to oppose him. Twice his community had to undergo official religious investigation, and twice it was exonerated. </p><p>While on a mission of peace, he became seriously ill and was brought home for a visit to his mother. He died at Cremona at the age of 36.</p> American Catholic Blog Lord, help me make my life more about you and less about me. May others see you in me—your image and likeness. Teach me ways to increase my time with you, my service to others, and my love for my family, for strangers, and for the poor. You are the light in the darkness. With each new day, may we be light to one another.

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