Sunday, January 29, 2012

Jail Time for Libel? Not in English Language Version of 'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo'

Translating a popular novel from one culture into a film aimed at another is certainly fraught with challenges. It’s essentially an act of double translation: from one culture to another and also from one artistic genre to another.

A host of artistic choices have to be made. Whatever the end result, it isn’t merely a matter of transposing the content from Form A to Form B.

Yet how odd it initially seems that an American film version of a European crime thriller omits a jail term served by one of the key characters. That is what writer / director David Fincher chose to do, however, in his Anglo Saxon take on the sensational Swedish novel The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.


In the Stieg Larsson original, muckraking journalist Mikael Blomkvist must serve a couple of months in jail as part of his sentence after being convicted of libeling a notorious business tycoon. In Fincher’s film, the sentence consists only of fines, with no jail time or even probation.

One might have thought that including the jail term would be quite natural in a film aimed at American audiences. After all, we are the country that leads the world in incarceration rates, the country sometimes called A Nation of Jailers.

Fincher probably felt that the very liberality of the conditions of Blomkvist’s confinement would make it unintelligible to many Americans. For example, Blomkvist gets to choose when he will serve his jail term. Such discretion is little known in our system, geared as it is toward punishment.

Similarly, the jail term itself, when Larsson’s Blomkvist does serve it, turns out to be a positive experience for him - more like going to a summer camp than to a hellhole. This contrasts sharply with the American perception that a jail term must inevitably evoke constant fear and trembling.

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