You can’t get your mind off Lady Gaga while watching David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Gaga, the ubiquitous pop star summoned up by the same self-loathing zeitgeist that popularized the Stieg Larsson crime novels as well as their Swedish TV-movie franchise, bears an uncanny resemblance to Lizbeth Salander, the franchise’s protag originally portrayed by Noomi Rapace and now by American actress Rooney Mara. By not casting Gaga as the Goth-eyed bisexual computer wiz with the pixie haircut, multiple body piercing and tattoos, Fincher missed out on confirming his pop bona fides. Why Fincher is enamored of film geeks and critics is a bigger mystery than any in the film itself.
Although indulging that same interest in violence and serial killing that marks his most popular films, Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac, Fincher’s not interested in character or narrative. Dragon Tattoo is consistent with Fincher’s advertising-slickness. This remake doesn’t streamline Larsson’s strained, overloaded plot but merely glosses its surface. Instead of getting to its potboiler essence–the way Gaga appropriates familiar riffs and tweaks them into meaningless anthems–Fincher has made a nearly three-hour movie trailer with Gaga themes.
Salander, is a deliberate cipher like Gaga (no wonder actresses with double-aught first names take the role). Her chameleonic appearance fronts a confused, nihilistic, yet very sentimental gimmick. It’s the unrequited love story of a chronically sexually abused waif, the too-knowing child of contemporary dystopia (tracing a prominent Swedish family’s breakdown to 60s disorder then Nazism) and a disgraced journalist played by Daniel Craig, the latest James Bond. And sure enough–with commercial savvy worthy of both Mad Men and Gaga—Fincher introduces this s&m Little Nell story by imitating a James Bond credit sequence. It’s pure hack work—Fincher‘s ultimate motivation.
With videographer Jeff Cronenweth, Fincher figured out how to dress-up the Swedish trilogy with trendy pop references—including a montage of black and white stills on a computer screen that pays homage to The White Ribbon, the Michael Haneke standard of Euro-trash. It is only Cronenweth’s cool, glistening videography that keeps Dragon Tattoo from being as dead-in-the-glacier as Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy. These images drift toward nothingness, even the money shot of Lizbeth’s revenge upon her parole officer (she tattoos “I am a rapist pig” on his body in a crucifix posture) resembles a halfhearted Gaga blasphemy. Her promise “And there will be blood” is as much a Gaga lyric as a Paul Thomas Anderson shout-out.
Trent Reznor’s score provides a new kind murder music, laughably indistinguishable from a floor-waxer or jet engine. Fincher’s team of high-priced, show-offy hacks are simply in the business of polishing and numbing Dragon Tattoo’s repugnant storyline even if it means incorporating such distractions as Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” or Enya’s “Orinocco Flow”–mash-ups worthy of Gaga. It’s all pointless enough to revoke Fincher’s Kubrick Fan Boy membership card.
Follow Armond White on Twitter at 3xChair.