On the surface The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a gripping murder mystery. The first book in Stieg Larsson's international mega-selling trilogy has been adapted for U.S. audiences following a Swedish language adaptation from 2009. Looking deeper, the mystery happens against the backdrop of Larsson's post-Christian worldview, which is powerfully and disturbingly portrayed.
A wealthy Swedish businessman asks disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) to solve the 40-year-old disappearance of his niece. Blomkvist enlists the help of Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), an intelligent computer hacker who may or may not have Asperger's syndrome. Salander's life has been a long litany of abuse, which she has countered by becoming more powerful than those who would hurt her.
Larsson looks unflinchingly at evil, creating a relentlessly dark and brutally graphic story. Part of the story involving Salander's court-appointed guardian depicts torture and rape-earning the film its R rating.
In Larsson's world, there is no doubt that evil exists. Good is more difficult to find. Goodness means to be who one presents oneself to be. Thus, when Blomkvist or Salander enters into consensual sexual relationships with multiple partners, it is good so long as nothing is secret or false. The main characters remain steadfastly secular. God is irrelevant to Blomkvist, and evil flows freely from human hearts. Since redemption isn't possible, revenge takes its place.
Salander seems particularly vulnerable but represents Larsson's highest hero. She controls her own destiny but at high cost to herself. The film is a perfect window into Larsson's and many others' wordview. With redemption and mercy out of the picture, the will to power becomes the ultimate goal of mankind.