Script Notes On: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

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Script Notes is a series about current cinema and what writers can learn from great (and not-so-great) scripts. This entry is about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, based on the international best-selling novel and starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara. There will definitely be spoilers in this entry!

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a thoroughly engrossing, exciting, and at times extremely intense and disturbing film about two people solving a decades-old mystery of a missing teenager:  Blomkivst, a disgraced journalist and unlikely lady’s man, and Lisbeth Salander, a computer-hacking genius with a violent anti-social streak. It’s a very complex film, and in the interest in talking about the script, I’ll skip over a longer plot description, but it’s best to have seen the film before reading the rest of this post (see, I’m warning you again! Spoilers!).

The script is noteworthy for one main reason: it is very well adapted from the source material. As a fan, I have read all the books, seen all three Swedish movies, and, obviously, this movie. This version does the best job of adapting the book that I’ve seen. There is no extraneous information (and there’s a lot of backstory in the book) but it still contains everything the audience needs to understand what’s going on.

One example of this is the first act of the movie. The book takes a very long time to explain what Blomkivst wrote, and why, what happens when the article is published, etc. This all takes up about 100 pages of the book, and the story hasn’t even really started! The screenwriter wisely condenses this into the first five minutes of the movie, where we see Blomkivst leave the trial, get confronted by reporters, and fire himself from his magazine. We learn about the trial from the news reports Blomkivst sees on television rather than lengthy exposition. The audience may not understand everything that happened, but the specifics don’t matter as long as we understand that Blomkivst is disgraced.

Many of the other subplots in the book are pared down or lost, again to the benefit of the film. Blomkivst never has to go to jail (a point that bogged down the book and was only mentioned briefly in the Swedish movie) and he finds Harriet in a much shorter and cleaner way.  Interestingly, except for a subplot involving her mother, Lisbeth keeps most of her story lines, which shows that she is the more interesting and dynamic character. As a result of the screenwriter’s choices regarding what elements to keep and what to cut, the two and a half hour movie flies by and keeps the audience fully engaged. When adapting a piece, screenwriters should strive to make these same careful choices to make their version of the story effective.