We sat down with director David Fincher to discuss the inner workings of the complex character that is The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, or Lisbeth Salander. Find out why Fincher is loathe to dub the crime-fighting hacker a superhero, and what his inspiration was for the much-buzzed-about tar titles from this film. Warning spoilers.
So you've now made two films very recently about technology and invasion of privacy, is that your biggest fear a future world where nothing is private?
David Fincher: No, not my biggest fear. You know it was interesting, I was working my daughter very hard as I was making "the Facebook movie" about how we have to be so careful and [asking her], "Why is it that your generation is so willing to give up these kinds of inalienable rights that people fought so hard to get for you?" And her response was an interesting one. She said, "Well, maybe when you can't take back those humiliating photographs of you, maybe in some way everybody realizes how big a fuck up everybody else is, and the playing field gets leveled." I thought that was sort of an interesting refutation of my position. I thought it was an interesting way of looking at it. But no, I definitely feel that we are less private and less protected than ever before. We've gone willingly like sheep to that present reality. It's a little sad, but you know, everybody is on the cover of their own Rolling Stone now.
The title sequence in Dragon Tattoo was astounding and it really brought out the cyberpunk aspects to this film. What did all of the tangled USB wires and tar baths mean to you?
I went to my friend Tim Miller, who has a company called Blur. They do a lot of game cinematics, and we had been trying for two or three years to get Heavy Metal and The Goon made as CG features. I came to him and said here's the idea, I want to do something that is sort of about the primordial ooze of Salander's subconscious. What would her nightmare look like? We need to show her connection to technology.
There's this wonderful thing that he did with these male hands that envelope her face, and then her face just melts, and she's not there anymore. It's almost like a soft ice cream version of herself. So he came up with all this imagery of these things, these ideas for what we would see. Her flash cutting between herself as a 10-year-old and who she is today, her connection to the beating and near killing of her mother.
So the task at hand was: We had this two minute and twenty five second song, I wanted to put all of the credits up front, the Guilds wouldn't let me, Sony wouldn't fight on my behalf to do it, because they'd grandfathered in the Cubby Broccoli's Bond title sequence. Which is what I wanted to do, was figure out a way to make a nine minute title sequence take place in two and a half minutes, and put them all upfront. But we didn't do that. So we ended up just doing the cast and the department heads. That's really Tim's creation. It's just this abstract notion, how do we get Salander's view of her plight?
And you have Karen O singing Robert Plant's part in "Immigrant Song." Was that an intentional gender swap? Did you do that to demonstrate the swapping of gender roles between Mikael and Lisbeth Dragon Tattoo?
You mean because she show up with a nine iron and he doesn't?
Yes, Mikael is the damsel in distress in this.
Well that's the book, and there's no doubt, I was driving through the North of Sweden in a van, location-scouting, and I just happened to be listening to my Zeppelin Mothership collection and I got to "Immigrant Song," and I thought, this could either be really good or really bad. And I called Trent Reznor. Once he stopped laughing, he said, "let me take a shot at it." There was no doubt that we wanted to do it with a female voice. There was no doubt that we wanted this to be Lisbeth's battle cry.
A lot of your big female leads, Sigourney in Alien 3 and Lisbeth, while they are very layered they have an exceptionally monstrous side to them, the way they look, the way they seek revenge, they are violent people. While many of your leading men are a bit more broken and weak willed. Do you have a fascination with the monster inside each woman?
No. In those… No. No.
Does a woman have to become a monster to star in a big Hollywood feature?
I don't think so.
Based on the characters competency, background and wish fulfillment it's very easy to relate Lisbeth to a superhero. Which you've stated is something you shied away from.
Vehemently opposed to it.
Obviously you're a fan of genre film and the superhero character as you were rumored to direct the new Spider-Man at some time so I'm curious why you're so resistant to any superhero associations?
Well I think it's a little overly facile to say that. My impression of what Spider-Man could be is very different from what Sam [Raimi] did or what Sam wanted to do. I think the reason he directed that movie was because he wanted to do the Marvel comic superhero. I was never interested in the genesis story. I couldn't get past a guy getting bit by a red and blue spider. It was just a problem… It was not something that I felt I could do straight-faced. I wanted to start with Gwen Stacy and the Green Goblin, and I wanted to kill Gwen Stacy.
The title sequence of the movie that I was going to do was going to be a ten minute - basically a music video, an opera, which was going to be the one shot that took you through the entire Peter Parker [backstory]. Bit by a radio active spider, the death of Uncle Ben, the loss of Mary Jane, and [then the movie] was going to begin with Peter meeting Gwen Stacy. It was a very different thing, it wasn't the teenager story. It was much more of the guy who's settled into being a freak.
So, very different thing. Lisbeth, to me, it demeans the point of entry for the feminine audience for this book to turn her [into a superhero]. I think it's a very masculine thing to think in terms of action figures. I think women, I think that girls, I think that feminine viewers are much more attuned to... I always find it interesting that whenever I have an elaborate and detailed discussion about Fight Club, the most interesting and the ones that are closest to my take on the material almost always come from women.
So I felt that it was ultimately a silly think to think in terms of reducing Listbeth to this archetype, because it seemed like it let so many people out. I think that the thing that's ultimately so stunning about [Stieg] Larsson's creation is that, I don't think she's a feminist creation. I think that she's a humanist creation. I think that everything she's talking about, I don't think it specifically relates to the trauma of overcoming violence to ones vagina. It has to do with being marginalized or being told that you're not.
The misogyny in what Larsson's talking about in the first book extends to [Mikael] Blomkvist's moving away from Erica. He leaves her high and dry and he's sort of, "Dont' be so mad, why are you being so emotional about this?" I think there's a tiny percentage of misogyny there... And I felt like as much as we compartmentalized and made her into an action figure, it seemed like it was discounting half the people on the street. People who say, "I don't know what it is to have all the right answers. I don't know what it is to be able to kick box, or ride a motorcycle."
She's not the Terminator, she's a real girl. That was, to me, the interesting part. How do you make her relatable in all her fucked-up-ness? In all her anger. What does her anger do? Does her anger make her bite people? No. Her anger makes her avoid people. It makes it so she can't make eye contact. It's not that she's constantly leading with her chin. It's that she's this kind of feral. Her response, ironically, is much more attuned to the response that her father would have. And part of what spills out of her in moments are the ways that she fights not to be Zala [her father]. And yet they're the things that free her at times, but they are also the things that bind her to this trajectory.
So you disagree with the media's 2D representation of the Superhero?
I don't see this character in a Happy Meal, and I don't see her with a cape. I think that, that diminishes her impact. I think her greatest impact is that you have people that haven't been necessarily been victimized by the foster care programs, it doesn't have to be that. It can be the way people say, "Aw sweetie, don't PMS." That in and of itself is kind of an act of misogyny.
The Goon vs. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea — which will happen first?
I read that you said 20,000 Leagues would be about 70% CG?
But many of your genre movies have one foot always grounded in reality. How are you going to make a movie that is 70% CG grounded in reality?
To say it's CG doesn't mean that it necessarily has to look like Toy Story, that's shiny plastic toys. There were things that we were able to do even at the end of Benjamin Button, we'd gone into it with our quiver filled with solutions to problems, but by the end of it we were finding even more sort of odd organic solutions to making this little gnome-like odd guy and the hairs in his ears, and all that stuff. CG is no more fake or plastic than you will allow it to be. It can be just as real as Vermeer. An oil painting by Vermeer is not a real thing. What makes it emotional is the art behind the technique. The technique of computer generated images doesn't have to simply lend itself to shiny plastic objects.
Would Captain Nemo be a CG character?