We're still haunted by the oozing hands that smushed Lisbeth Salander's lovely face in David Fincher's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo's title sequence. But what sort of Dragon Tattoo imagery is hidden amongst all these tangled vines of USB cables and "primordial dream ooze"? We spoke with co-founder of Blur and the title sequence's creative director, Tim Miller, to uncover what sort of secret messages are hiding inside Lisbeth's nightmare.
In a previous interview with the movie's director, David Fincher, we learned all about Miller and his work on the titles at Blur. Now the man himself has shared how he and Fincher collaborated to bring this real-life fever dream to life — and he's given io9 a handful of gorgeous stills from the title, two video breakdowns, plus the official title sequence (which you can see at the bottom). But first, let's break it down.
Tim Miller: [The title sequence] was always supposed to be a very abstract version of key moments in the book and about Lisbeth. It was really supposed to be her nightmare sequence. Being a hacker is such a big part of her personality and who she was, we needed some imagery for that but it's kind of hard to represent that abstractly. So the ones we came up with were the keyboard elements.
I wrote a bunch of various vignettes that I threw in front of David. We were going to treat the keyboard like this giant city with massive fingers pressing down on the keys. Then we transitioned to the liquid going through the giant obelisks of the keys.
I wrote one called "The Hacker Inside," where we wanted to reveal her inner nature and melt it all away. The first one was actually much more cyberpunk than what we ended up with. [The first designs] were very slick and robotic and futuristic. Every time I would show David a design he would say, "More Tandy!" It's the shitty little computers from Radio Shack, the Tandy computers. They probably had vacuum tubes in them, really old technology. And David would go "More Tandy," until we ended up with something that looked like we glued a bunch of computer parts found at a junkyard together. So that's how we ended up with the design of cyber Salander.
Why did you decide to go with the oozing black tar look?
Everything was supposed to be a fever dream of Salander's. David wanted this to be her personal nightmare, flashbacking through all these moments. Early on, we knew it was supposed to feel like a nightmare. When we originally started out he wanted to find some sort of defining creative pulsar that we could head towards — like for Alien, it was [H.R.] Giger's work. It was the aesthetic that guided that whole movie.
We looked at a bunch of fine art, but nothing really tweaked. But there was this artist who would paint himself black and stand in the middle of a gallery, David really responded to that. And it worked with the dream sequence as well. So we gravitated to that. And, for whatever reason, a lot of the vignettes I wrote had liquid in them. Which was a big part of the story, the drowning, the river that separated the island. And David said let's just put liquid in all of them and it will be this primordial dream ooze that's a part of every vignette. It ties everything together other than the black on black. It became a goal early on and I rewrote all of them with some kind of gooey component that would unify them. Really, if you [freeze frame] every shot in there, you'll find that virtually everyone liquid somewhere.
What references or imagery from the book are hidden in this title sequence?
If you haven't read the book, you may not know that the wasp digging itself out of the eye is the tattoo on her neck. By the way we designed the Phoenix tattoo and the Dragon Tattoo, that were tattooed on her David asked us to do that early on. So there's the Phoenix tattoo, which is the Phoenix in the piece. And then the Dragon obviously, that we used in a couple of places.
I think the references to the flowers… again they start out with an idea. For instance, we wanted to represent the cycle of life and death that these flowers represented. They were sent to him every year on his birthday [Henrik Vanger, played by Christopher Plummer] for all these years. I wrote a bunch of different drafts where flowers were a part of them. One had flowers coming out of this black ooze, it blossoms, and then it dies. And then a different flower, as that one is dying is rising from the middle of it. It was supposed to represent this cycle of the killer sending flowers. And that's kind of what's happening. It ends up getting so abstracted — A, conceptually, and B, editorially — because we take a whole thought, and cut it up into multiple different shots that are mixed in with other shots. So there's this cycle of life and death with the flowers.
The Blomkvist moment where he's being strangled by these strips of newspapers come alive. You might not pick up on the fact that they're bits of newspaper. David wanted that one to represent that [Blomkvist] is trying to speak the truth and the establishment is forever smothering him.
There's two different sequences with hands, one with Lisbeth — that's my favorite. The hands come up and caress her face, and then they melt it. The vignette was called hot hands. We did another one where the same kind of thing happens to Blomkvist except he's torn apart by the hands. David wanted the hands on Lisbeth to almost represent all that's bad in men.
If you look at Keith Richard's hands, from the Rolling Stones, they're these gnarled, arthritic, it looks like people beat his hands with clubs. It's amazing there's so much character in his hands. If you look at the hands on her face they're these gnarled and very textured. And if you look at the hands on Blomkvist, they're more refined. It speaks to wealth and power trying to silence him and rip him apart. They're rich people hands, and with her it's the hands of bad men. It's interesting when you do this shit because David will key in on that. I focus on the hands and what they're doing, and David will add that little extra layer and detail that is so cool.
There's a woman who is being beaten and her face is shattered. That's supposed to represent Lisbeth's mother being beaten by her father, which you only find out about in the second book. Lisbeth is caught in the violence of that. The vignettes are not just from this movie, they're from all three books. We wanted to tell the story of all three books in these 2 and a half minutes. Moments like the beating of the Mother and the burning Father are from the later books.
When we interviewed Fincher he told us that he had called up Trent Reznor while driving and threw out "Immigrant Song" which Reznor first laughed and eventually said okay. What came first the song of the idea? How much of an influence did the music have?
Huge, to have that in place right at the beginning, because the music really drives the editorial process in such a huge way. If you don't have that giant piece of the puzzle in place, everything can shift around a lot more. Having that from day one, because David was clear that this was it, having that stone in the middle of the river made everything else conform to it… Having that song there drives all the other decisions in the process. It's good to have, and sure sometimes you want to see another shot or need another second, and that can be frustrating, but it's enormously offset by the song which guided the whole process. And, I fucking love the song, it's great. And Trent was really cool. Did you see the music video version? Trent was all over that one, he was really excited about doing that version.
And here it is, the entire title sequence to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
For more information on Miller's work and the general awesomeness he and his team creates check out Blur Studio. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is in theaters now.