Getting to Noomi

by Bill Gibron

19 August 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo's Noomi Rapace, is and remains to this day the living embodiment of late author Stieg Larsson's troubled protagonist.
cover art

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Blu-ray)

Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Cast: Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Lena Endre, Peter Haber, Sven-Bertil Taube, Peter Andersson

(Music Box Films)
US DVD: 6 Jul 2010 (Limited release)
UK DVD: 6 Jul 2010 (General release)

Over the last week, the ‘Net has been a-buzz with rumors over who will play the titular character in David Fincher’s “Americanization” of the brilliant Swedish thriller, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. As one critic recently put it, it’s the kind of role that doesn’t require a star…it MAKES one. So naturally, when initial reports began to surface and the same old names - Natalie Portman, Kristin Stewart, Ellen Page - bubbled up, film geeks everywhere were up in arms. How could the damaged cyber-savant Lisbeth Salander be played by someone carrying so much preconceived celebrity baggage with them. No, the role needed to go to someone new and untested and wisely, the noted filmmaker finally announced that he was indeed going with a relative unknown - Rooney Mara.

Before we get into the decision, it’s important to note that the angst was well placed. Hollywood loves to fool with foreign film hits. They’ve been doing it since three men became invested of a little baby and long before a bunch of schmucks were summoned to their own stateside dinner game - and each time, the casting decisions have been generally derided. Now, most of this distrust comes from a love of the source material. After all, who could envision anyone other than Kåre Hedebrant as Oscar and Lina Leandersson as Eli in the astonishing vampire thriller Let the Right One In. Of course, we will soon have an answer to that head scratcher as The Road‘s Kodi Smit-McPhee and Kick-Ass‘s own Hit-Girl, Chloë Moretz parallel the previously mentioned players in Matt Reeves’ remake, Let Me In.
Still, the disturbing thing about reimagining Lisbeth for a US marketplace is that original actress, Noomi Rapace, is and remains to this day the living embodiment of late author Stieg Larsson’s troubled protagonist. From the moment she arrives onscreen in the first installment of the so-called Millennium trilogy (Dragon Tattoo was followed by The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest), we are instantly draw to Ms. Rapace’s performance - the haunted look in her raccoon eyes, the asymmetric approach to her appearance, the awkward piercings, the jaundiced Joan Jett haircut, the stolen Sioxsie Sioux fashion sense. But there is more to her than a bitter couture. Thanks to what Ms. Rapace brings to the character, Lisbeth becomes the most unlikely action hero since Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling entered FBI training.

Adding impact to abusive injuries, Rapace is undeniably brave in her choices and elemental chances. As the narrative plays out, we learn that Lisbeth has a checkered, even criminal past, a few missing years in an institution, a state-mandated guardianship, and an accepted rebelliousness (which apparently equals ‘sluttiness’) that makes her a target for every sicko male bureaucrat looking to get their kicks off the bruised back of their charges. Indeed, the character goes through so much Hell during the first hour of the mystery thriller that we wonder if she’ll ever become an actual part of the plot. But then she hooks up with disgraced investigated journalist Mikael Blomkvist (even literally bedding him in an oddly asexual moment of proto-passion) and slowly, Rapace transforms from perennial victim to unstoppable, uncompromised hero.

It’s the kind of performance that gets by on pure physicality and mystique alone. Lisbeth is often described as “autistic”, even though Larsson seems to suggest that she is merely antisocial to a disturbing, disconnected degree. She is a whiz with computers and can hack away with the best of them. As for the rest of her skill set… But when required to put the footwork in to uncover the horrific past of the privileged Vanger clan, she’s one nasty Nancy Drew. All the while Rapace invests Lisbeth with the kind of walking wounded vitriol that we know will eventually come out in cruel, calculated justice. Indeed, without spoiling the last act of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, our heroine becomes the catalyst for much, much more than mere crime solving. In some ways, she redeems her very soul.

It’s the kind of epic introspective turn that makes the ordinary into an Oscar winner. Even better, Ms. Rapace has had two more films to flesh out Lisbeth, (as well as a short lived retelling of the character and trilogy narrative as a TV series). Clearly, her American counterpart has her work cut out for her, and so far, minor moves in films such as Urban Legends: Bloody Mary, Youth in Revolt, and The Winning Season fail to suggest such strengths. Granted, Ms. Mara was good as the “new” Nancy in the Nightmare on Elm Street remake, but it will take her work in Fincher’s upcoming Facebook expose, The Social Network, to convince us that she can manage Rapace’s mantle - and even then, it’s a massive uphill climb for someone so suspect.

More disconcerting will be the choice of how to turn the mousy little Miss into a liberated lightning rod of stunted feminine vengeance without mimicking Ms. Rapace outright. As stated before, Lisbeth’s “look” is crucial, as much a reflection of a redolent Western influence on Sweden as her own unique reinterpretation of such ‘chic’. Will Fincher find a new way of making his newcomer radiate the character’s radical inner strengths, or will he go for the obvious and simply copy a previous persona? Until some production photos come trickling out (the movie doesn’t begin shooting for another month or two) and advance word from the set hits Messageboard Nation, we are left to ponder the possible pros - and the numerous cons.

Indeed, in one unique way, Rooney Mara is doomed. She could give the greatest performance in her short history in front of the lens and, somewhere, someone will sigh and say, “she’s no Noomi Rapace.” In fact, the same critic who commented on the star-making machinery behind the role also mentioned that, there is nothing wrong with Julianne Moore as a star or performer, but when she walked into view as part of Ridley Scott’s Lambs sequel, Hannibal, all he could think of was “she’s no Jodie Foster.” For an actress whose not even remotely known among mainstream American moviegoers to hold such sway says a lot about Ms. Rapace (reportedly, she even turned down the chance to replay the part for Fincher). Perhaps it is okay for Ms. Mara to step into these potentially potent shoes. After all, her predecessor is already a sensation. 

We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work. We are a wholly independent, women-owned, small company. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing, challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. PopMatters needs your help to keep publishing. Thank you.

//Mixed media

TIFF 2017: 'The Shape of Water'

// Notes from the Road

"The Shape of Water comes off as uninformed political correctness, which is more detrimental to its cause than it is progressive.

READ the article