The dragon tattoo and the girl

I’ve intentionally been avoiding writing a story about the Millennium Trilogy for a while now. While I haven’t read the books, I have seen the films which are believably good, but despite the title, the tattoo in question doesn’t really play a major role in the films. Sure the character of Lisbeth sports a massive back piece, but seeing as how you only see it a couple of times and the actress, Noomi Rapace, didn’t actually get it tattooed on herself I just assumed that the entire thing was a non-story.

Today I was pleasantly proven wrong.

Before we begin, here’s the trailer for the first film: “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”

I use Google news alerts to flag stories that have specific key words in them.  Tattoo of course being one of them.  So you can imagine that with these films gaining international acclaim, the books being bestsellers, and casting rumors flying around for the American adaptations, my inbox has been filled for the past few months of stories about the trilogy.  For the most part I just dismiss them, but since they finally got around to casting the role of Lisbeth in the American films, the e-mails have died down.

Yet here I am today, talking about the thing I promised not to discuss on ModBlog.  The reason I’m bringing it up now?  Well, I’ll let this article from The Mirror fill you in.

Winning a career-making role in the Dragon Tattoo films brought a strange mixture of pleasure and pain to rising star Noomi Rapace.  The 30-year-old actress knew she had to nail the part of androgynous anti-hero Lisbeth Salander – or risk offending the many fans of the creator, best-selling author Stieg Larsson.  So to really convince as the punky, chain-smoking, kick-ass computer hacker, Noomi embarked on a remarkable transformation.  She went on a strict diet, trained in kickboxing and Thai boxing and even took her motorcycle licence. A non-smoker, she began puffing her way through “thousands of cigarettes” both on-set and off it.  And she wouldn’t even consider faking all those piercings in Salander’s ears and nose because, as Noomi puts it, “I wanted to feel those piercings in myself.”

You’ll often hear of actors undergoing massive physical changes for a role.  De Niro gained a significant amount of weight for his role in Raging Bull, while Christian Bale lost a frightening amount of weight in a short period of time for his role in The Machinist, only to gain it all back plus more in a couple months to be ready for his role in Batman Begins.  Actors are required to change themselves to some degree for a role, sometimes it’s simply a costume, and others require a lot more commitment.  So for Noomi Rapace, in order to fully transform into the character of Lisbeth she drastically changed not only her physical appearance, but also her behaviour months before filming.

While the diet and smoking is one aspect of the transformation, this being ModBlog I wanted to focus on her mods.  You get a brief glimpse of them in the trailer but having seen the films it is obvious that she didn’t just opt for one or two piercings to personify the character.  I counted about 10-12 seperate piercings spread out over her lobes, cartilage, nostrils and septum.  While by ModBlog standards this isn’t anything too significant, to see an actress portray a character so well, and commit to that many mods is something significant.  While the character of Lisbeth is certainly troubled, and goes through several drastic events over the course of the series, what we’re seeing is essentially a mainstream film that doesn’t treat modifications as some form of joke or used as shock value.

I’m sure we’ve all seen films where a “punk” character appears on screen wielding a vast array of facial piercings simply to appear intimidating to the viewer, yet in these films the piercings appear to be just a natural extension of the character.  In fact, in the scenes where she isn’t wearing her piercings you get a sense of discomfort looking at her, as if something is missing.  Which of course there is.  I think an accurate analogy to this would be the NYC skyline post 9-11.  The image of the skyline had been etched into the minds of millions of people, and now, looking at it, there is something missing.  I’m not making any political statements or anything like that, but the idea that something is removed from an image that everyone was used to seeing makes one feel that sense of “not right”.  Of course the NYC skyline itself evokes a lot of feelings, but I think you get where I was going with this.  I really think that with Noomi Racpace’s commitment to the role, combined with a skilled filmmaker, that this may be the first portrayal of a modified person that actually captures the essence of the modified culture.  Where the focus is on the character, and not the mods, yet when the mods are removed you can tell something has changed not only on her physical exterior, but something inside her as well.

If you were to take a look in a mirror one day and all of your mods were gone, how would you feel?  What about those close to you, how do you think they would react if a modification you’ve had for years was suddenly gone without a trace?  Because we don’t treat our modifications as something other than what they are, an extension of our ideal selves, we can sense the incompleteness that occurs with a mod is removed.  Yes I realize people retire mods all the time, but even then, those first few days really can reveal how much our mods are a part of us.

Looking back at these films with the knowledge of the actor’s commitment to the part, it really shines a light on how a person who is modified isn’t defined by their mods, but by who they are as a person.  While this isn’t anything new to us, there still is a large portion of the population that doesn’t realize it.  Given that the titular dragon tattoo is the one modification in the film that isn’t a real mod, I thought I should close this post out with a real dragon tattoo from the tattoo galleries.


I’m sure I’m not the only one who has seen the films.  Can anyone else who has seen them weigh in?  Did Noomi Rapace actually getting the piercings done change your view of the films and her portrayal, or does her performance stand out on its own without the piercings being a factor?

18 thoughts on “The dragon tattoo and the girl

  1. I was unsure about the movies also cause of the name of the first one. Which I found out later that the first film is actually called men who hate women and they just changed it for the us.

  2. First off- I’m starting to come back to Modblog because of these longer, thoughtful, well-considered entries taking over from the frequent, often mediocre posts that have been plaguing it for the past couple of years.

    Thanks. Really. I like have a good blog to read:)

    Secondly- yes, the piercings absolutely rang true. There was never a moment of doubt in my mind that they were real, and they were hers. That made the character, and the character made the movie.

  3. Thank you for posting this. It has been the first modblog post in a very long time that has really caught my attention. It isn’t just because I’m a fan of the movies (haven’t read the books), but mostly because it has been a while since I read something on modblog that has really excited me about the mod community. Sure, amazing photos of beautiful work in one form or another is cool, but it is the thoughts and experiences of those in the community that are what keeps me coming back here and first got me interested in this place.

    So really, thank you for reminding me why I really enjoy this site.

  4. I actually have this moving sitting on my DVD player waiting for me to watch it. I really should do that.

    I think it’s AWESOME that she was willing to get all those piercings for her role, that she was that committed to it. I’m not sure I think the taking up smoking was the best idea though haha. I wonder if she will keep the piercings, or if it will make her more interested in modification for herself, not just for a role in a movie. I’d certainly like her to keep the piercings, I think they suit her quite nicely.

  5. hi!
    The girl with the dragon tattoo is actually called in Sweedish “Men who hate women” witch is a MUTCH better name than the one they have translated it to!

  6. im pretty sure she did not keep the piercings, being swedish means you get swamped by stuff about the trilogy wether you want it or not and Noomi Rapace does not have any visible modifications in any of the later pictures of her (except possibly lobe piercings but those are standard on females in Sweden).

    personnally i think the movies pretty much sucked compaired to alot of other great swedish movies like “Jägarna” (the hunters in swedish) which is an awesome movie.

  7. I watched the film one day on netflix, and really liked it. I picked a copy of the book up at the store, and burned through that as well.

    The screenplay alters the story quite a bit, but as few movies do. I thought they complimented one another well.

    I want to read the other two books when I get time.

  8. I love Stieg Larsson’s Millenium-trilogy, I’ve read the books and seen the films. And for anyone who likes the films should also read the books.
    Noomi Rapace couldn’t have been a better choice for Lisbeth’s role. I don’t really care about her actually getting those piercings herself, she does a great work anyway.

    Också, svenskarna vet hur man skriver bra böker..

  9. Hm. I should get around to reading the book – but I do have to second the idea that the piercings were intrinsic to the character; and in a good way as opposed to the stated “He/she has piercings, therefore they are the bad guy. Fear them, for they are different!”

    Though I shall have to check into this Jägarna movie. Hm.

  10. For me, the movie captured the modifications’ significance to Salander’s character a lot better than Stieg Larsson himself. Don’t get me wrong, I love the books, and in every other field they seem to be very well researched. But his insistence that the coverage of her tattoos (modest compared to what most modblog readers might be used to) and the rings in her nose and eyebrow were SHOCKING and DISTINCTIVE at every turn, and clumsy portrayal of one of her sessions in a tattoo shop were a little dissappointing.

    ps. The Swedish title is “Men Who Hate Women”? That makes so much more sense, and has a lot more to do with the actual content of the book than “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”. Wow, our translations suck.

  11. Yeah, that’s the original title. The translations to Spanish (the ones I read, which are a billion times better than the ones to English. REALLY.) kept the literal titles, which would be something like “Men Who Hate Women,” “The Girl That Dreamed of a Match and a Tank of Gasoline,” and “The Queen of the Castle of the Air Currents.” Much better titles, and far more relevant.

    … I really hope they are able to publish the last book. I must know!

    I have only seen the first film, and can’t wait to get my paws on the second one. I think Naomi’s performance is outstanding even without taking the mods into account, but knowing this makes me appreciate her more. I actually had never thought about it (am I too used to mods?), but the fact that the actress is pierced makes the tattoo scene more… Powerful, somewhat? Because even though metal is not the same as ink, she obviously has a connection to the community. I think I like the movie more now!

    Also, I have an enormous crush on Lisbeth. So that makes me like Naomi right off the bat.

  12. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is translated the skycastle that blew up from the swedish title.
    wonder why thay change the titels, same all the time.
    And yeah its a great trilogy.
    More down to earth than the hollywood crap.

  13. ..

    The Girl That Dreamed of a Match and a Tank of Gasoline?

    ..Thats bloody glorious.

  14. Men Who Hate Women, original title for the first movie..

    I love all three of them!!! Watch them here and there again..
    Great movies and intriguing story..

  15. This post makes me want to see this movie, I kinda was curious about it anyways since I’m always interested in things related to mods in general! I definitely respect this actress for really gettin into the character enough to go through getting pierced multiple times to be more realistic. It’s great that it seems like mods aren’t portrayed as a bad thing also. Most of the time any actor with “mods” in a movie is the “wild one” or just bad news and they look really fake and stupid, so this is a nice switch!

    I do feel like mods are a very important part of me, if I were to take any piercings out that I’ve had for years I’d feel incomplete or even less attractive! My mods make me feel good about myself and I also think it’s a shame when other people take their piercings out. I think people look very plain without mods, but that’s just my opinion.

  16. I remember the feeling of retiring a piercing the first time I had to give up my ear lobe holes, age eight. I lost an earring and had gotten an infection from studs, so I didn’t want to use them until I got a new pair of rings. Seeing my rings gone after two years was sheer torture for a week or two. I’ve since gotten them back twice, and am considering getting them done properly at a piercer someday.

    Had a minor emotional flashback last week, when I switched out the jewelry for my one other piercing to something less fiddly, should I ever be asked by a doctor again to take it out for a procedure. I’ve had it for four months or so, and it’s covered by clothes most of the time, but it was still eerie to see where it should be so empty and bare.

    As to the movie, I want to see it after reading this, but I’m still listening to the Norwegian translation of the book and don’t want to spoil the ending.

  17. I heard that some of those piercings were from her youth, she was actually a rebellious punk back in the day. Others were because she doesn’t like to fake anything. She becomes the character. The name change was unfortunate, yet fitting. It wasn’t, “The dragon tattoo on the back of the girl.” It “The girl with the dragon tattoo” because it’s about Lisbeth. Even her mother comments at the end if the first film that she’s so dofferent, unrecognizable. I think she is using it to hide herself from the past.

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