Features and Columns · Movies

33 Things We Learned from David Fincher’s ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ Commentary

“I have nothing against Ikea.”
Dragon Tattoo
By  · Published on November 17th, 2018

Welcome to Commentary Commentary, our long-running series of articles exploring the things we can learn from the most interesting filmmaker commentaries available on DVD and Blu-ray.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo remains a gorgeous thriller for adults and a reminder that we’ve gone too long without a new David Fincher film. His last, Gone Girl, is already four years old! His 2011 feature went over budget and over schedule, but every penny is visible on the screen, and it still turned a profit for Sony. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough of one apparently, as they never brought him back to complete Stieg Larsson’s trilogy.

But hey, we’ll always have this film at least. A lackluster adaptation of book four in the Lisbeth Salander series is in theaters now, so we decided to look backward to the franchise’s highpoint with the loaded Blu-ray of Fincher’s film.

Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary for…

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Commentator: David Fincher (director)

1. The opening scene with the phone call was originally much longer and featured the two men discussing more details beyond the pressed flower in the frame, but he trimmed it back knowing it was leading into the striking opening title sequence.

2. He was riding in a van in Sweden when Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” played in his ears, and he was immediately struck by inspiration. “Aside from the incredibly inanely obvious ‘I come from the land of the ice and snow’ I just liked the idea of an anthemnal, incredibly famous track that could be wailed by a woman.” He called co-composer Trent Reznor and suggested it, and “I think at first he thought I was joking.”

3. The visuals for the opening credits were created by Tim Miller‘s Blur Studio. Fincher asked him “what can you do along the lines of a nightmare?”

4. Mikael Blomkvist’s (Daniel Craig) introduction was filmed inside and outside Stockholm’s actual main courthouse, and they created the rain with “one of the biggest rain-tower jobs that’s ever been done in Stockholm… about a block and a half of rain.” There was one to two days of setup required to construct and perfect the rain towers used in 23 seconds of the movie.

5. The barista in the coffee shop is Michael Nyqvist’s daughter. He played Mikael in the Swedish trilogy, and he dropped by during filming to give his blessing.

6. That’s Joel Kinnaman at 5:16 as Christer Malm. He came in for a few days of extra work knowing the character is more prevalent in the next two books, but we’ll unfortunately never get to see them from Fincher.

7. He likes that Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) is someone who connects with the world in a photographic/digital way. She mistrusts opinion and feelings and only trusts data, and that plays as a contrast to Mikael.

8. “I like the women in Blomqvist’s life,” he says by way of discussing the casting of Craig in the role. “It was a very important thing to find an actor who not only brought a real masculinity to it but he also had to be able to be a friend to many women. He’s a great listener.”

9. The character of Plague (Tony Way) wears a Nine Inch Nails shirt on, and Fincher had to call Reznor to tell him “I didn’t want to do anything disparaging about Nine Inch Nails fans, I just liked the idea that Plague would have a NIN sweatshirt on.”

10. The day Harriet (Moa Garpendal) disappeared is sunny in Henrik Vanger’s (Christopher Plummer) flashback, but later when we see it again from her own perspective it’s rainy. That wasn’t intentional, but on the day they were set to film the additional scenes it was raining and Fincher felt that was better.

11. Robin Wright questioned Fincher after seeing an early cut of the film as to why her character had to be “so shrewish” towards Mikael during the scene where she catches him packing up his belongings at the office. “It seemed to me like it’s a very realistic portrayal of a relationship between people who are partners. It’s not a male/female thing to me.”

12. Fincher points out a subtle story point in how Mikael brings many of his favorite books to re-read knowing he’ll be on the island for a while, but he’s already resorted to burning them for heat on his first night.

13. Mara had a cold while filming the scene where she first meets her new advocate Bjurman (Yorick van Wageningen), and while he was worried her voice wouldn’t match with other scenes he ended up loving that she’s under the weather as it makes her feel “real and fragile.”

14. “Ah, Stellan Skarsgård.” Fincher says the actor may have been the first actor he approached about starring in the film. He had asked Gore Verbinski about him, and the director said only “Get him. Just get him.”

15. He refers to Geraldine James as “the lost Redgrave… The notion of pairing her with Joely [Richardson] was too delicious.”

16. They didn’t intend to put a halo over Lisbeth’s head at 44:20, but “it’s just one of those things that happens.”

17. He loved the beat in the original Swedish film where Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth washes her mouth out with soap after the encounter with Bjurman, and rather than steal it they instead have Mara see the soap, decide it’s not enough, and choose to vomit instead.

18. The scene where Mikael and Anita Vanger (Joely Richardson) talk in a restaurant was filmed in a well-known London eatery. It took a few hours as Fincher took his time picking the precise seating arrangement for both actors, and halfway through their day he noticed Craig laughing. Apparently Craig had filmed a scene in this restaurant for a previous movie and both he and his fellow actor were seated in the same exact chairs.

19. The rape scene was difficult to shoot for obvious reasons, and while he and Mara discussed the specifics beforehand including nudity, camera angles, etc, he told her Lisbeth’s reaction was entirely hers to create. They started to shoot the master from the foot of the bed, “and she started screaming, you could see the hair on people’s arms and on the backs of their necks, they were extremely uncomfortable. People were really bristling with, you know, nobody wanted to see this.”

20. They screened the film early for roughly 80 people at Sony, and many of them were visibly furious when Lisbeth shows up at Bjurman’s apartment again after being raped. “They had almost written off Salander if she was going to make this mistake again. And when she whips out that taser and drops him in one blow it was pretty amazing to watch the reaction.”

21. Fincher asked friends and acquaintances who had been through sexual abuse if Bjurman would be naked during Lisbeth’s revenge. “All of them said no, I don’t want to see him, I wouldn’t want to see, even if I was going to sodomize him with a dildo I wouldn’t want to see his naked body.” They shot the scene with Bjurman clothed, but “everybody felt that we had copped out, and that by showing Rooney naked and not showing Yorick naked that we had somehow chickened.” They re-shot it with the actor in a small Speedo and then digitally removed it to show his ass and genitals.

22. He enjoyed working with Mara for her five days on The Social Network, but he couldn’t initially see her in the role of Lisbeth Salander. The characters are diametrically opposed, but every time they screen-tested he would set a hurdle for her and she would jump it perfectly. He kept raising the stakes, “and one of the things that became apparent to me was we weren’t going to be able to dissuade her. We weren’t going to be able to make her doubt herself.And in the end that was kind of the thing that I wanted most from Lisbeth.”

23. Rural Sweden at night is silent to the point that “you can crack an egg three miles away and you can hear it.” The outdoor conversation between Lisbeth and Mikael was plagued with the sound of distant generators during Mara’s closeups, so Fincher said they’d loop it later just in case they couldn’t clean up the production audio. Mara wasn’t happy about it as she worried she’d never be able to match the moment and accent at a later date. They recorded the ADR back in LA, and Fincher was thrilled to hear it sounded perfect as the other was unusable. “When she saw the movie later she said ‘I’m so glad you kept that production audio, and I said ‘absolutely, I wouldn’t think of not.'”

24. There are two nods in the film to other films in regard to Lisbeth’s face/head — one to Blade Runner (1982) and the other to The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993).

25. The over the shoulder motorcycle shot through the tunnel at 1:31:05 was filmed in Los Angeles as the footage from Sweden showed too much vibration. “Our only requirement to make it look Swedish was we just put a bunch of Volvos in the tunnel.”

26. The sex scene between Mikael and Lisbeth was always going to feel awkward as they’ve only just come together as acquaintances, but Fincher assumes she initiates it simply to help him calm down. He recalls an Air Force study that showed orgasm as the best way to overcome jet lag.

27. Mara told Fincher she was having a red-haired merkin — a pubic wig — made. “I said, whatever, however you feel most comfortable.”

28. This is quintessential Fincher. “There was a moment that we had planned for this where he walks over to the gun case and he looks, and then the camera’s gonna track left as he walked out of the room and see that there was one gun that was missing from the gun rack. But as I was watching it on the monitor I thought ‘who gives a shit?'”

29. There was some debate over how Martin (Skarsgård) would render Mikael unconscious before settling on the gas. “He can’t hit him on the back of the head. That’s just too lame.” Craig suggested a dart gun or blow gun of some kind, and Fincher chuckles at the thought saying “we nixed that idea.”

30. While prepping the scene between Martin and a captive Mikael they found themselves wondering aloud what music should play when Martin presses play on his audio system. “And Daniel Craig, to give credit where credit’s due, immediately sat up in his chair and said ‘Orinoco Flow.’ We didn’t know if he was having a stroke, no one knew what it meant.” He ran to retrieve his iPod and played the track for Fincher, Skarsgård, and writer Steve Zaillian. “We could not stop laughing. We just thought it was the greatest thing for a serial murderer to have this music as his music to kill by.”

31. There was more debate over whether Lisbeth should ask Mikael “May I kill him?” before chasing after Martin. Fincher likes it, though, and not just because he wrote it. To him it’s not her asking for permission, it’s her basically saying “are you with me now in this” regarding the true horrors of men. Mikael knows about terror in an erudite, learned way, while Lisbeth has lived it. “She’s looking for understanding.”

32. The most dangerous stunt in the film was the one that ends it. “There’s nothing like wetting down cobblestones and then turning to a stunt coordinator and saying ‘okay, this motorcycle has to take off as quickly as possible and go straight downhill.”

33. The big draw here for Fincher, more than the locked-room mystery of the killings, is its “tale about how a twenty-something girl and a forty-something man help each other out of hiding.”

Best in Context-Free Commentary

“I love Daniel Craig’s ability to be open about his disappointment.”

“There was really no way to take what Larsson had written and get it into three acts, so we had to make our peace with a five-act structure.”

“When we dared to dream about who could play Erika Verger obviously the first person on everyone’s lips was Robin Wright.”

“One of my favorite books growing up was Dracula.”

“I was very worried about this wardrobe with Rooney in this cowl because I thought she looked a little too much like a Jedi.”

“We kept talking about the idea of Blomkvist as a bimbo.”

“If you don’t expect cats to do something, they’ll usually give you a very cat-like response.”

“Stellan Skarsgård is the most relaxed human being ever, and I think that’s what makes him a fantastic villain.”

“Booty call.”

“I never wanted to say ‘serial killer’ in the movie.”

“They both know what they both know, and now it’s a question of whether or not politeness will rule the day.”

“I love the idea that she’s made herself up to sort of look like Robin Wright in a slightly more drag queeny way.”

“The wig continuity in this sequence leaves a little bit to be desired.”

Final Thoughts

Fincher remains top of the game when it comes to filmmaker commentaries. He’s never less than fascinating, informative, and more than a little amusing. This track is more of the same as he shares technical details and anecdotes aplenty while showering praise on those around him. It’s a great listen for a great film.

Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.

Related Topics: , ,

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.