Contemporary Transnational Remakes. The Swedish "Män Som Hatar Kvinnor" (2009) and the Hollywood Production "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" (2011)

Bachelor Thesis, 2012

43 Pages, Grade: 2,0

Tom Keller (Author)



1. Introduction

2. Definitions
2.1 Transnationalism
2.2 The Remake
2.3 Contemporary Transnational Remake
2.4 What is Gender?

3. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – A Transnational Remake

4. Characterization
4.1 Lisbeth Salander
4.2 Mikael Blomkvist

5. Comparison of the Character Constellation
5.1 Character Constellation in Män Som Hatar Kvinnor
5.2 Character Constellation in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

6. Conclusion


1. Introduction

On the 20th December 2011 a new Hollywood film was released throughout North America. It was a remake, a film based on another one, starring Hollywood stars such as Daniel Craig and Christopher Plummer and attracting a bit more medial attention than usual. The reason was that the film was released quite soon after its predecessor. More specifically, only two years had passed since the global success of the original Swedish film Män Som Hatar Kvinnor, directed by Niels Arden Oplev, which was released in 2009.

As a result, ever since its announcement the remake with the title The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo triggered many discussions. People wondered why the world needed another American remake of a successful and critically acclaimed movie so quickly after its original release. Looking back, remakes have always been an integral part of the Hollywood film industry, which has been copying ideas from other film industries ever since its emergence in the beginning of the last century. European, Asian or even previous American films were remade whenever it seemed to be profitable and in this case it seemed very promising, given the great success of the movie outside the US. Basically, from the American perspective several reasons exist to justify a remake of a film, for example the updating of an old movie to present it to younger generations or the fact, like in this case, that a remake is allegedly “necessary” because people in the US do not like reading subtitles or listening to synchronized non-English movies. However, some people simply accuse Hollywood of desperately trying to show the world how to do it in a better way and hiding their lack of new ideas.

Such transnational remakes are still in progress and have been going on for decades, not only in the US but also worldwide. Bollywood copies American films, Hollywood borrows narratives from Europe and European film makers get their inspiration from American productions. It is evident that such contemporary transnational remakes are a worldwide phenomena increased by the globalization which enables people to share and trade cultural goods and ideas all over the globe.

Coming back to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the question arises why someone who has already watched the original, should go out and pay again to see, basically, the same film. Actually, on first sight, there is no clear reason to do it. The mere fact that a great director like David Fincher is responsible for the remake is not enough. Filmed also in Sweden like the original, the film shows an European environment, which is actually a major difference to typical American remakes, and as a result looks like a freshly polished version of the Swedish predecessor. Furthermore, the plot about the investigations of an investigative journalist and a genius computer hacker is not changed and apart from a few alterations the film remains basically the same. Even though, being a remake and facing inevitable comparisons with the original, Fincher´s version received surprisingly positive reviews. Critics all over the world agreed that this remake is not worse than Oplev´s version but also not necessarily better.

Nevertheless, there is one major difference between the movies which allows me to argue that the movies are more than mere similar versions of the same narrative. The protagonists are played by different actors and this inevitably changes parts of the films.

Therefore, the aim of this bachelor thesis is to indicate that the characters in Fincher´s remake The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo are substantially different in regard to behavior, appearance and character. As a consequence, the viewer´s perception of the characterization, character constellation and gender is fundamentally changed.

The entire plot is focused on the protagonists Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist, played by Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist, who both try to solve a mysterious murder of a girl which happened 40 years ago. Thereby, it is Lisbeth who is the heroine and Mikael acts in the supporting role. The Swedish original shows that right from the start, depicting Lisbeth as a very tough, aggressive and mysterious punk, whereas Mikael, after a defeat in court, is a broken man, withdrawn and soft, even not able to drive a car with confidence. Fincher´s remake on the other hand, differs in certain aspects with regard to appearance and behavior of the characters, showing a masculine Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomkvist and Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander. Craig, known as the smart James Bond, has a completely different aura and is much more of a stereotypical male hero who smokes cigarettes and drinks a lot of alcohol, representing a contemporary cliched depiction of masculinity in films. Even though Rooney Mara's Lisbeth is still the center of the movie something about her has changed. In certain moments she acts differently than the original Lisbeth, appearing insecure, not having everything under control and being patronized by Craig´s Blomkvist.

First, I am going to define important terms which are integral parts of the topic and the analysis. Afterwards, the remake will be analyzed in regard to its features which qualify it as a transnational remake. Then the characters and their constellations will take the longest part of the analysis where I will illustrate my argument that the perception of the characters, also in regard to the gender roles, has changed. The performances are not the same, the character´s relationships work in a different way and their gender roles are varied. Finally, I will give an overview about the topics in a conclusion where I present my results and show that my thesis is confirmed.

2. Definitions

In the course of my analysis I am going to use certain terms which I will explain and try to define in this chapter. Regarding the title Contemporary Transnational Remakes it is important to get an image of what Transnationalism actually means. Furthermore, it is important to clarify when a film becomes a remake and what the term indicates. To increase the plausibility I will take a look at certain definitions and later on show why The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo can be considered a transnational remake. Additional focus will also lie on the constellation between the protagonists and the consequences for the gender roles. Therefore, it is crucial to explain what can be understood under the terms gender, gender roles as well as masculinity and femininity. All the following explanations will thereby focus on the major topic of film making with little additional information beyond.

2.1 Transnationalism

During the last decades the world has grown together in many various ways. Due to the technological progress in communication and transportation, trade between nations has become easier and more efficient, leading to a highly globalized world. The “[g]lobalization has entailed the increasing extent, intensity, velocity and impact of global interconnectedness across a broad range of human domains” (Vertovec 2). Globalization is everywhere and the world as such has become a little place where everyone can communicate and interact with each other. Resources, people and general information are as mobile as never before and can be exchanged all over the world. Time and space have undergone a transformation and their borders vanish continuously, creating an enormous market where almost everything can be shared.

A term related to globalization is the so called transnationalism. Both are highly connected with each other, seeing transnationalism as “[...] a manifestation of globalization [...]” (Vertovec 2). Whereas globalization stands for intercourses between governments or the trade of goods between countries, best described as international, transnationalism refers to exchanges among actors who are not directly limited to a particular country. Companies, Individuals or independent organizations can share interests across physical and cultural borders on a transnational basis (Vertovec 3). Herbert suggests that “[t]ransnationalism [] describes those flows of peoples, resources, and information that occur between and in excess of the nation as a socio-political formation” (42). Furthermore, it can be said that this term describes movements between certain nations which bring changes and blurr the international borders between them.

Thinking about the diverse cultures, with its distinct features like food, language, music or religion, it is remarkable how many similarities exist in different countries. Those features are shared between cultures without limiting international borders. American culture might be the best example, having brought its products and lifestyle all over the world. Fast Food, music, film or social networks like Facebook can be found in almost every country. The American culture expands all over the world, influences national cultures and its features eventually lose their status as American because cultures have integrated them completely (Musiol 171).

No matter how great the difference between certain countries, for instance India or Poland, in both one can find similar tastes from the Western World like international music, popular films or TV formats like Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Certainly, it is also possible the other way round when Hollywood superstars wear Indian style clothes at festivals, setting a trend for this kind of clothing and transferring a foreign traditional clothing style into their popular culture. In regard to film, transnational actions are carried out constantly throughout the world. Film industries from different countries share and trade film rights, ideas and even film stars or directors. They copy whole films and remake them inspired by their own cultural background, showing the population their own hybridized version of a foreign film. It is this kind of transnationalism which I take into account for my further analysis.

2.2 The Remake

As Robert Eberwein states “it is difficult to know where to begin in theorizing remakes” (15). After all, this category of film is and has always been an integral part of movie making in every film industry around the world. Hollywood in particular is inevitably connected when it comes to remakes but also other film nations like India with Bollywood or European countries like France or Germany have been remaking films for decades (Oltmann 20). It is part of our contemporary globalized world that cultural goods, in this case film, are traded and remade across continental borders.

Looking back at the beginning of the last century numerous Hollywood remakes were released because of non existent copyrights where studios could simply copy whatever they wanted. Companies, possessing the rights, often remade the same films after a couple of years again and again or made sequels which were basically the same without any complaints of the audience. Due to the fact that people could not buy and watch old movies at home they did not protest or even realize that they were watching remade movies (Oltmann 20). Nowadays times have changed and through technical advances people are able to watch older movies on TV, on the internet or on DVD, leading to the consequence that the frequency of remakes has decreased but definitely not ceased.

Nevertheless, ever since its existence the remake has gained a rather bad reputation. Usually, critics expect it to be worse than the original, just a commercially motivated project for the film studios (Oltmann 11). As Mazdon points out “[r]emakes are routinely condemned as a commercial practice” (48). Given such critique it is worthwhile to analyze why remakes are produced at all. Critics often accuse Hollywood of being unimaginative and therefore stealing ideas from other films, reusing them and making a lot of money in a short amount of time. Especially, when a foreign movie attracts attention and even better, is a success at the box office, Hollywood companies do not hesitate to buy the rights and convert it. One of the latest examples is the french movie Intouchables which was a huge blockbuster all over Europe and not surprisingly Hollywood has already announced a remake. Whereas in the past remakes were made after some time, it looks like Hollywood cannot wait anymore and thereby confirms the accusation of being commercially motivated, which is also applicable for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo[1] (Franzi). Another reason for doing remakes is the fact that American audiences apparently do not like to read subtitles and therefore ignore well made foreign movies. So one could argue that American remakes act as a kind of translation for the viewers. This can undoubtedly be said about Fincher´s Remake of Män Som Hatar Kvinnor. Whereas the Swedish original was barely noticed, the remake had already covered its costs of ninety million dollars after only four weeks. Daniel Craig, starring as main protagonist Mikael Blomkvist, also passively underlined the need for a translation of the film by claiming that the story must be told to a bigger audience (Tschiedert/Kaden).

After having explained the situation of the remake, the question remains how the term can be defined. Neale defines the remake as follows:

A remake is generally thought of as a film based on an earlier film, usually with minor or major variations of plot, characterization, casting, setting, or form, and sometimes language and genre as well. (1)

Most of the time, definitions of the remake merely state that something is made again or remade, mostly a movie. What is good about this definition in particular is the fact that Neale does not focus on just one basic message (that a remake is based on another film), but also mentions variations which can occur and influence a remake. However, he mentions problems in his article as well, saying that “[...] the issue of what constitutes a remake is complicated by the degree of variation involved []” (2). The problem is that many features exist which can influence a remake, its perception and above all define it as one. A question arises whether every film which has got the same features as the previous ones is immediately a remake?! It is possible that remakes are disguised as sequels[2] as well. This can be said about Hangover 2, which is an exact copy of the first film apart from the different setting and a few changes. It seems as if the film industry centers around formulas to produce films quicker, without the burden of storylines, thus maximizing the profit. Furthermore, comic films are often repeated like the Batman films or the new version of Spiderman. They are generally considered as re-boots[3] and not remakes. Therefore, talking about a remake it is necessary to analyze the former film(s). Is the original a remake itself or an adaption of a novel or another source?! Simply because a movie consists of the same features it is not necessarily a remake. That is why this definition is not complete. All those questions have to be answered to determine whether one can consider a film a remake.

I am going to work with another more useful definition which is taken from the seminar Remakes by Prof. Dr. Rüdiger Heinze at the Technical University Braunschweig. I have added a few additional points to cover all important aspects sufficiently.

A filmic remake is the reworking of one or more previous film(s) that incorporates key elements –such as story, events, character constellation, conflicts, themes, [setting]– of the previous film(s) in a recognizable way [and occasionally changing time and genre]. The medium- and discourse-specific features –such as mise-en-scène, cinematography, editing, sound, narrative structure, etc.– may deviate to differing degrees from the previous film(s). The remake is informed by its cultural and historical context and enters into a dialogue with its forerunner(s).

This detailed definition underlines the fact that a remake is based on one or more previous films and shows signs of similarity in regard to key elements. The film can have a different name, take place in a different time, place and genre but still be a remake when it covers key aspects of the original. Furthermore, it is mentioned that the way a movie is presented can differ from the other films in terms of medium- and discourse-specific features. That means that a film can completely look and feel different from the original but still remain a remake. At last, the information is given that a remake may transfer a film into the contemporary cultural and historical context and thereby can be perceived as an updated version.

2.3 Contemporary Transnational Remake

After having described the terms transnationalism and remake I am now able to establish the term contemporary transnational remakes. I am going to work with the following definition which describes it perfectly: “[] Transnational film remakes are those films made in one national, regional, or cultural context and which are subsequently remade in another” (Herbert 96). As already mentioned, film industries around the globe, especially the American, have always been transforming foreign movies into new versions with influences from their own culture. Looking for useful material all over the world Hollywood remade uncountable movies. Just to name a few they remade Asian movies like Ringu (1998) or Internal Affairs (2002) as The Ring (2002) and The Departed (2006). Additionally, further examples are European movies like Abre los Ojos (1997) or Solyaris (1972) which were also remade as Vanilla Sky (2001) or Solaris (2002). Verevis calls these kinds of remakes cross-cultural remakes and explains them as “[...] foreign films [which] are dispossessed of 'local detail' and 'political content' to exploit new (English-language) markets” (3). Therefore, what all contemporary transnational remakes have in common is that their basic key features are transferred and set in a new cultural setting. Thus, film makers have the possibility to produce a film which was already successful, altering it accordingly to the viewers expectations and conventions and thereby minimizing the risks of a failure. Later on, I will point out why The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is also a contemporary transnational remake.

2.4 What is Gender?

In my analysis of how the characters and constellations between them differ, I also focus on the consequences of the gender roles. The protagonists of the films look and behave differently and both movies show various forms of contrasting gender roles. Masculinity and femininity are presented and embodied in various ways. Therefore, I am going to explain what gender is and take a closer look at the terms masculinity / male and femininity / female which I will use continuously throughout the analysis.

Gender has always played a big role in film productions and considering the fact that men and masculinity have always had a higher status than women and femininity, “[...] it should come as no surprise that Hollywood film has always privileged men and male roles over women and female roles” (Benshoff/Griffin). When referring to the term gender another term called sex is always connected. The difference is that sex refers to the physiological aspects of human bodies, whereas gender represents a cultural norm of perception. Barker defines both, saying that “[s]ex is taken to be the biology of the body while gender refers to the cultural assumptions and practices that govern the social construction of men and women” (290). Furthermore, he underlines the difference of the terms, stating that gender, being a cultural construct, can be altered, whereas sex remains unchangeable (Barker 290). Butler has criticized this distinction for a long time and points out that both terms are not as far away from each other as previously thought. Her opinion is that it is impossible not to influence the body through culture (Oltmann 38). She states “[t]hat the gendered body, [being] performative suggests that is has no ontological status apart from the various acts which constitute its reality” (Butler 173). In essence, that means that both terms are culturally influenced and one could argue that sex can be seen as an effect of gender (Oltmann 39). Nevertheless, I will not continue this discussion and rather focus on the basic assumptions of Barker about these terms.

Underlining the definition of Barker, the term gender stands for the “[] social, historical, and cultural roles that we think of as being associated with either the male or female sex” (Benshoff/Griffin 214). Hence, we see gender roles as roles which are connected to either male or female persons. Thereby, I define gender as either being masculine or feminine or in other words as a cultural characterization of the male and female sexes (Benshoff/Griffin 214).

Masculinity and femininity and what they encompass have both undergone major changes throughout human history. As a result, I will not give or work with a definition because it is impossible to define both terms satisfactorily. As Barker points out “[...] there are multiple modes of femininity (and masculinity) [...]” (291), meaning that there is not just the one and only femininity or masculinity but several, which “[...] var[y] across time and space [...]” (301). As a result, contemporary definitions of the terms would be inevitably different than a couple decades ago and due to the possibilities of embodiment it is almost impossible to find a complete definition. What is considered to be masculine today might have been considered feminine in the past. For instance, nowadays it is perfectly fine when men shave their entire body, whereas 30 years ago people might have perceived it as feminine and condemned such behavior immediately. Contemporary magazines for men advertise completely different products and lifestyle ideals than in the past, showing for instance, the best ways to lose weight or how to cook healthy meals. In 2011 Germany organized the women football world cup which was a huge success watched by millions both women and men. A sport which had always been considered to be purely masculine. Suddenly women, playing football were not perceived as manly anymore but as sexy and feminine. Films also influence society, depicting contemporary versions of gender. James Bond, for instance, represents several male identities and has always been a gentleman superhero. Nowadays the new interpretation with Daniel Craig shows a more modern masculine version, being a rather unemotional muscular and strong man who is completely determined to reach his aims. Nevertheless, he is not perfect and shows weakness, acting more as a human being than a superhero because not everything works out for him. The representation of masculinity in the new version is not comparable to Sean Connery´s James Bond from the 60´s or 70´s. One fact is clear, gender roles are constantly transforming and therefore it is important to know what makes someone masculine or feminine and male or female.


[1] The Hollywood remake of Män Som Hatar Kvinnor was already released after two years.

[2] Can be understood as a movies continuing a story and/or the world of an earlier one (Heinze).

[3] Reboot can be understood as a restart or a re-interpretation of something that already exists (Heinze).

Excerpt out of 43 pages


Contemporary Transnational Remakes. The Swedish "Män Som Hatar Kvinnor" (2009) and the Hollywood Production "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" (2011)
Technical University of Braunschweig  (Englisches Seminar)
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contemporary, transnational, remakes, swedish, hatar, kvinnor, hollywood, production, girl, with, dragon, tattoo
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Tom Keller (Author), 2012, Contemporary Transnational Remakes. The Swedish "Män Som Hatar Kvinnor" (2009) and the Hollywood Production "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" (2011), Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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