Gifts of Omission

Last month’s Book to Film presentation was the original Swedish version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” At the end of the film, we talked about parts of the book that were left out or drastically condensed (like the end, which is a series of rapid scenes tying up the loose ends of multiple storylines). 

A discussion of the differences between what makes a good book and what makes a good movie covers immense ground (the Book to Film club has been discussing just that for over seven years now). Sometimes we all find ourselves disappointed by parts of our favorite books that are absent from the movie version or unrecognizably altered. This film, however, caused me to reflect on something a little different: gifts of omission, wherein my least favorite parts of a book are left out of the movie.

In the book, I did not like the relationship between Mikael Blomkvist and Cecilia Vanger. It did not seem necessary, and made Blomkvist less realistic to me. This is a minor quibble (and also a matter of taste), but neither Blomkvist nor Salander were compelling characters to me in the book because of the apparent ease with which they did everything. It’s hard to root for a character who effortlessly seduces every woman he meets, or who has such superhuman mental and physical prowess that getting out of every scrape takes on the disappointing anticlimactic sense of a deus ex machina. Both characters are impressively resourceful in the movie, but the subtraction of their less realistic qualities makes them more real and more likeable to me.

Spoiler alert! A scene that illustrates this idea is the one in which Salander rescues Blomkvist from a serial killer, Martin Vanger. In the book, the scene of Blomkvist’s capture reaches a climax in which Vanger is about to kiss Blomkvist before murdering him. Then Salander walks in, stating that she “has a monopoly on that one,” calls Vanger a creep, and bludgeons him with a golf club. As he escapes, she tells Blomkvist, “I’m going to take him.” In the movie, Salander walks in, strikes Vanger several times with the golf club, then chases after him without a word. There are no implications of possessiveness on Salander’s part, no indication that she is going to start explaining herself all of a sudden, and no hints that she finds revenge satisfying. She simply takes action, as she has always done.

The simplicity of the movie scene is much more satisfying to me. A movie can leave out dialogue, the only part of a book that can transfer seamlessly to screen, and actually improve upon the presentation of character. Even in a work as crowded and action-packed as an international bestseller or blockbuster film, silence can speak the loudest.

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