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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Ending, Explained

January 5, 2021
8 min read

Directed by David Fincher, ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ is a tense psychological crime thriller based on the Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s eponymous novel. It is set in Stockholm’s wintry landscape and depicts the city’s rich and corrupt industrialists’ moral degradation and criminal acts. The novel became an international bestseller, and the films that it spawned put this Nordic noir firmly in the ambit of audiences worldwide. Filled with thrills and unabashed and brutal violence, ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ is an engrossing piece of cinema featuring the James Bond star, Daniel Craig, and a no-holds-barred performance by Rooney Mara. The plot integrates many characters within itself, so we decided to uncover the film’s little nuances. SPOILERS AHEAD.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Plot Synopsis

Mikael Blomkvist is an investigative journalist and publisher of the magazine Millenium. He publishes some reports on Hans-Erik Wennerström, a wealthy businessman, which doesn’t go well for him. Blomkvist ends up at the receiving end of a libel suit, charging him with defamation. The case marks his fall from grace, which in turn strains his relationship with his business partner and lover, Erika Berger. On the other hand, we are introduced to Lisbeth Salander, a computer hacker who has her own idiosyncratic ways and is dominated by a punk persona.

She is hired by Dirch Frode, an attorney of Henrik Vanger (who is a rich and powerful industrialist), to do a background check on Blomkvist. Mikael receives a call from Frode, who sets up a meeting with him and Henrik Vanger. Vanger asks Blomkvist to investigate his niece Harriet Vanger’s disappearance: a case which occurred 40 years ago. Vanger suspects that someone from his own family is responsible for the disappearance and believes that Harriet has been murdered. In his attempt at finding closure, Henrik Vanger offers Blomkvist a handsome amount of remuneration and suitable information that would help Mikael exact his revenge on Wennerström.

Salander has her own personal problems when her state-appointed guardian suffers a cerebral stroke that leaves him in a vegetative state. The Swedish state authorities examine her social credentials to assign her a new guardian: a fact that does not go well with Lisbeth. Lisbeth encounters Nils Bjurman, who controls her finances in lieu of inappropriate sexual coercion. The coercion evolves into outright violent sodomy when Lisbeth reaches his house to ask for her allowance. She films the act through a hidden camera and gets her revenge on him in a brutal fashion.

In his investigation of the 40-year-old case, Blomkvist gets caught up in a morass of characters and clues, while the end seems vague and difficult to penetrate. He asks Frode for an assistant researcher and ends up hiring Lisbeth Salander. The two have an awkward introduction but later team up to uncover the dark secrets of the Vanger family. Their professional relationship takes an intimate turn when things start to get romantic between them. Wading through the complex webs of evidence and investigative reports, they both manage to solve the case, but their personal relationship ends on a sour note.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Ending: Does Mikael Blomkvist Get His Revenge on Wennerström?

In the end, Blomkvist and Salander manage to find the sadistic killer in the Vanger family after investigating old photographs, journalistic exposition of the Vagner Family members, and the Vagner Industries archives. Henrik receives this news and provides the promised information on Wennerström to Blomkvist. The information turns to be 30 years old, with little to no merit in terms of its legal value. Blomkvist is furious at this and speaks about it with Lisbeth Salander. Salander divulges the fact that she had hacked into Wennerström’s account details during her initial investigations, which are linked to the international mafia, money laundering, and arms smuggling.

Blomkvist publishes a book-length report based on this information and manages to rekindle their old rivalry. He acknowledges that the report isn’t enough to put a powerful businessman like Wennerström in jail. Salander takes the account details, visits Zurich under a disguise, and transfers all the money into accounts only accessible to her. Wennerstrom ends up dead, probably due to his inability to pay out the mafia, who would not have tolerated his non-obeisance.

Do Lisbeth and Mikael End Up Together?

This sympathetic act from Lisbeth, who puts herself in jeopardy to help Blomkvist, shows that she likes him and genuinely wants to help. The brutal violence that she has to face is symbolic of the State-sponsored atrocities that are committed on women in a patriarchal society. Lisbeth’s character is an oddity in the sight of society. Her punk aesthetic creates imagery that is generally labeled as being non-conformist with the State’s dictums. It is a deftly placed irony since Lisbeth is a ward of the State- an unwitting and coercive relationship that raises one too many questions regarding women’s role in a capitalist welfare state.

When she is treated warmly by Blomkvist, she can’t hide her urge to reciprocate and thus ends up having a sexual relationship with a much older man. She goes to buy a jacket for Mikael, where the owner asks whether he is her father. This subtle element reflects society’s approach wherein relationships are scrutinized and frowned upon if it veers from its established dogmas. However, Lisbeth is unable to gift it to Mikael as she sees him with Erika Berger and ends up bottling her feelings and riding away on her motorcycle. So it does not seem like the two protagonists get together after all.

Was Harriet Vanger Killed? What Happened to Her?

The film starts with the quest to find the truth about Harriet Vanger, who had disappeared 40 years ago. Fincher uses archival elements in his narrative to set up a flow that is highly investigative in nature. Blomkvist’s main evidence is the photographs from a street parade where Harriet was present prior to her disappearance. He identifies the culprit through rigorous analysis of the archival footage and detailed investigation of Harriet’s diary, which has names with numbers written on it. The names turn out to be victims of gruesome violence influenced by Biblical verses.

The verses depict the utterances of God that are ensconced in wrath and savagery. Blomkvist’s daughter points out the verses to him, which gives a fresh perspective to the interrelation of evidence. It is interesting to note how Fincher cuts from the violence inflicted upon Lisbeth to the Biblical utterings, thereby establishing a link between the State and the religious institutions that has dominated the social history of Europe. In essence, the nordic thriller is not just about society’s wrongdoings. It also establishes the role of religion, whose subversive use leads to the rise of fascism. The Vanger Family has Nazis and Nazi sympathizers among their ranks— a careful assertion put by Larsson to symbolize the degrading state of the Swedish society.

Lisbeth and Mikael figure out that Martin and his father, Gottfried, were serial killers and rapists. Martin and Mikael’s confrontation ends in a violent denouement where Lisbeth manages to save Blomkvist from mortal harm. It is revealed that Gottfried, Harriet’s father, had sexually abused her as a child, who in turn killed him in a desperate attempt to escape the torture. Martin inherits his father’s violent attributes and tortures and kills several women but denies killing Harriet.

This signifies that violence is pathologically ingrained within the patriarchal structure. There’s no stopping it; one can only be an escape from it. As it turns out, Harriet had spotted Martin in the parade and decided to escape from the clutches of filial violence. Her cousin, Anita, helped her escape to London, wherein she started to live under the guise of Anita herself. Mikael identifies Harriet and gets to know all the details when he visits her back in London. Henrik and Harriet are re-united but at a great cost.

The scene where Henrik breaks down into tears signifies the long-awaited closure he had been longing for. Harriet’s affection for her uncle doesn’t wane away as she sends her paintings of plants on his birthday every time. It is a marker set in the film’s beginning that tells us that Harriet’s disappearance is an impermanent phenomenon that is essential to drive the narrative forward. The taut thriller manages to condense many characters and provides us with delectable thrills, paired with vivid soci0-political commentary.

Read More: Is The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Based on a True Story?

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