The History Place - Movie Review

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

By Jim Castagnera
Special to The History Place

Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist convicted of libel and facing a three-month jail term in Oslo, has little to lose when an aging industrialist, Martin Vanger, offers him a strange but lucrative assignment.  The job is to reopen the files on the 40-year-old disappearance, and probable murder of Vanger’s beloved niece Harriett, who vanished in 1963. Thus unfolds The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a Swedish mystery-thriller directed by Niels Arden Oplev.

As Blomkvist digs through the dusty files of the local newspaper, as well as the boxes of photos, diaries, and other effluvia of the extensive Vanger clan, he finds himself descending into a rabbit hole that runs all the way back to World War II.  Martin’s three brothers, it transpires, were all members of the Swedish Nazi Party.  One died in the Finnish “Winter War.”  Another survived the war only to become an alcoholic and drown in the fjord off the Vanger clan’s island enclave.  The third Fascist sibling abides – a sort of half-mad Norse god, who roams the island’s woods in search of deer – and perhaps other living creatures.


The Vanger Group’s industrial history is as shadowy as the brothers’ war records.  Blomkvist insists he was set up by the Group’s arch rival, the subject of the journalist’s allegedly libelous magazine expose.  Is this the real reason why Martin Vanger has hired him?  Blomkvist, half frozen in a wood-heated cottage on the patriarch’s estate, is uncertain whether he is there as investigative journalist or stalking horse.  His unease is heightened when he discovers his computer has been hacked and someone has access to everything on his hard drive.

That someone is the girl of the film’s title.  Lisbeth Salander, a much-pierced and tattooed Goth in her mid-twenties, has a history every bit as sordid as Vanger Group’s.  Armed with a photographic memory and the hacking skills of a master criminal, she also has a past marred by mental illness and a murder all her own.  Blomkvist and Salander soon team up to explore the dark passageways of the Vanger Clan saga.  What they find in those ancient hallways is surprising beyond all expectation.

This two-and-a-half-hour film, in Swedish with English subtitles, is a faithful recreation of the first novel of the late Stieg Larsson, a journalist who clearly modeled Blomkvist after himself.  Larsson penned a trilogy of novels, delivered them to a publisher in Oslo midway through the last decade, then promptly died of a heart attack.  He never saw his international best seller published.

The novel delves in greater detail into the Nazi affiliations and WWII activities of the Vangers, than does the film.  But both will interest history buffs, who may appreciate Larsson’s fictional depiction of the Swedes’ shadowy shenanigans as alleged neutrals during the era of the “Thousand-year Reich.”

Jim Castagnera is the author of "Al Qaeda Goes to College: Impact of the War on Terror on American Higher Education" (Praeger 2009) and Handbook for Student Law (Peter Land 2010).  He is a Philadelphia lawyer and journalist, whose Website is
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Official Website
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