In Fincher’s version of the world, the heroes often fuse with the villains, creating an intentional ambiguity. In Se7en, a serial killer (played by Kevin Spacey) becomes surprisingly understandable until his psychotic nature defies empathy. In Fight Club, Tyler Durden (played by Brad Pitt) is a seductive purveyor of liberation through destruction. Fincher clearly relates: Lisbeth Salander is in the same vein—a relative of the other Fincher-ites. Her actions are at once rebellious, self-protective, and, of course, true to her own moral code. For The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Fincher has imagined more than the obvious—a compelling thriller about a crusading journalist and his mysterious partner, Lisbeth Salander. Instead, he wants Salander to be both subversive and a new kind of role model.
Which is why he has analyzed every detail, from her earrings to her essence. Nothing with Fincher is accidental, and although he delights in being subversive and contradictory, he is deeply committed to his characters, his movies. “Look at this,” Fincher said as he returned to the carefully placed spots of blood on Mara’s palms and wrists. The bursts of maroon were like stigmata—turning Salander into a martyr rather than a complex force. “That’s just not right,” he said flatly. “Lisbeth Salander is not about suffering! She is not Jesus! She is about vengeance!” Fincher smiled. An assistant squeezed rivulets of blood onto Mara’s hands so that it ran over her fingers. “That’s better,” Fincher said, clearly pleased. “You have to get it right. Or there’s no point at all.”
Fincher’s fascination with all things Salander provided him with an excellent reason to be away from America at the precise moment he was winning nearly unanimous accolades and numerous awards for The Social Network. In September, days after the movie’s release, Fincher and his longtime girlfriend, Ceán Chaffin, who produces his films, decamped from their home in Los Angeles for Stockholm and began work on The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Fincher, who is contrary by nature, is allergic to garlands. While critics were heralding The Social Network as, hands down, the best movie of the year, a meditation on the inability to emotionally connect in today’s increasingly mechanized society, Fincher was scouting locations in Sweden.
“The timing was lucky,” Fincher said as he sat down at a candlelit table in a room next to the photo studio. In November there are only a few hours of daylight in Stockholm, and although it was 3 p.m., it was like the middle of the night. The constant darkness and deep freeze were difficult for Fincher. “But nothing is truly hard after Benjamin Button,” he said. “I put Brad Pitt’s head on somebody else’s body. That was hard.” Fincher poured a glass of red wine. “I hate the awards part of the moviemaking process,” he continued. “And besides, on Social Network, I didn’t really agree with the critics’ praise. It interested me that Social Network was about friendships that dissolved through this thing that promised friendships, but I didn’t think we were ripping the lid off anything. The movie is true to a time and a kind of person, but I was never trying to turn a mirror on a generation.”