Book vs. Film: The Girl Who Played With Fire

Is The Girl Who Played With Fire faithful to the book? What are the differences between the book and the film? What did the movie leave out?

The 2000s is often thought of as the decade of remakes and adaptations, with familiar titles popping up on billboards and filling cinemas. The trend has certainly continued through the 2010s, proving adaptations to be profitable for authors, publishers, filmmakers and studios alike; appealing to existing fans of books and prompting new ones after a film’s release. Critics and loyal book fans seemingly lap them up, ready to pounce on unfaithful or ‘butchered’ attempts which, unfortunately, are all too common. Despite the risks and uncertain responses involved in them, they clearly aren’t missing from the prestigious award season, as six of the nine Best Picture nominations of 2013’s Academy Awards are adaptations, four of which were adapted from books. While some criticise the film industry’s recent lack of imagination and creativity, others find the prominence of author’s plots and storytelling to benefit movies.

Stieg Larsson’s posthumous Flickan som lekte med elden or The Girl Who Played With Fire was adapted in its native Swedish in 2009 and David Fincher is reportedly working on an English language version to star Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig.

A year on from the events of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Lisbeth Salander returns to Sweden after travelling for a year on laundered money. She is soon caught up in a complicated triple homicide investigation, and is wanted for the murders of two journalists who were going to expose the truth about sex trafficking in Sweden. With a media storm focusing on her unusual character and mental health history, and the police convinced of her involvement, former flame and investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist must prove her innocence.

This second instalment in Larsson’s Millenium trilogy is interesting, exciting and perhaps even better than its prequel. The Girl Who Played With Fire is very much Lisbeth’s story and, considering that she is arguably the most fascinating and unique of Stieg’s creations, a focus on her is welcomed with open arms. While Blomkvist and reminders of the events of Dragon Tattoo are omnipresent, this is a very different story, but a no less effective and smart one. Larsson’s attention to detail concerning mathematics and computer hacking is astounding, and each character, no matter how minor or insignificant, is thought-out and described in detail. It is unsurprising that the trilogy has prompted two different adaptations; The Girl Who Played With Fire has great potential to look great on screen, so how well did Daniel Alfredson’s attempt do?

The film is pretty decent overall; it is successful in its cinematography and editing, it looks good and the atmosphere of Larsson’s trilogy is set well. In addition, the performances are commendable, especially Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander, and boxer Paolo Roberto playing himself. However, there are several aspects of the film’s plot which stray from the book; while some are due to the compacting of Larsson’s expansive story into 130 minutes, others are not as understandable and may distract book fans from the movie’s plight. The following information may contain spoilers.

  1. The film features very little from the first two parts of the book, but as those sections had little to do with the main plot, and were more focused on Lisbeth’s travelling and return to Sweden, this is understandable. While it would have been nice to visualise everything Larrson wrote, it is simply impossible to fit everything in, and unrelated parts, no matter how interesting, are usually sacrificed in adaptations.
  2. For similar reasons, the audience is unable to get to know Dag and Mia, whilst they are featured predominantly in the early sections of the book.
  3. Unfortunately, there is little focus on Lisbeth’s hacking; while the film does portray Salander hacking into and observing the computers of Blomkvist, her guardian Bjurman and others, her skill takes a back seat and the film ultimately suffers from it. Lisbeth is very skilled at researching and hacking and she uses it extensively in the book, the omission in the film just undermines her intelligence and talent.
  4. As for Lisbeth, she is way too forward and willing to communicate in the adaptation; Larsson’s Lisbeth is stubborn, she will not do anything she does not want to do, even if it is for her own good. Salander is very cryptic, and because of this, Blomkvist is left pondering over her innocence for most of the book, whereas in the film she tells him pretty much straight away that she did not commit the murders. This arguably betrays the character of the extremely stubborn and socially awkward Lisbeth, and while some may not mind the slight change in personality, which may have been used to quicken the pace of the plot, Salander does seem very different.
  5. Another slightly concerning change is the absence of police; they are rarely seen, appear to be doing very little and are portrayed as idiots. While some police officers in the book are sexist pigs, convinced that Lisbeth is simply a psychotic ‘whore’ who went on a murderous rampage, there are two officers, Jan Bublanski and Sonja Modig, who are fair, respectable and simply looking for the truth. In the film Mikael dismisses them as useless, and they are never fully developed past their original suspicions of Salander’s involvement in the murders. The film fails to portray their important roles in the investigation, and instead, leaves it up to Blomkvist to discover the truth.
  6. Mikael Blomkvist is exhausted, shocked and grieving after discovering two of his friends dead in their apartment; he spends the next few weeks juggling responsibilities at his magazine and the investigation, and he is extremely stressed as a result. However, in the film Mikael appears fine, only a tad upset and full of energy, it would have complimented the film to echo Larsson’s realistic and dramatic representation of Blomkvist.
  7. The epic fight scene between Paolo Roberto, Miriam Wu and the Blond Giant is disappointing; the fight is an important part of the book, Paolo follows the Blond Giant, who has just kidnapped Miriam Wu, into a warehouse and a fist fight ensues. The Giant appears to have trained in boxing, but he cannot evade and dodge Paolo’s hits, however, he does not feel a thing. Unable to get the Blond down, Roberto and Wu continue to beat him, but it is a plank of wood to his head that finally knocks him out. In the film, the Giant defeats Roberto and Wu and sets the warehouse on fire; he then leaves not knowing that they have escaped. The choice to completely butcher Larsson’s epic fight and turn it into an underwhelming, Hollywood-inspired case of ‘the bad guy cannot be defeated’ is boring, uninspired and prompts anger among fans of the book.
In Conclusion

The Girl Who Played With Fire is a great book, and it’s adaptation is decent enough; however, it does not handle Stieg Larsson’s expansive amount of information and story as well as it could have.

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