Yesterday, Sony invited us to their studio lot to see some early footage from The Girl in the Spider’s Web, the newest entry in the Dragon Tattoo franchise. Afterward, co-writer/director Fede Alvarez (Don’t Breathe) and star Claire Foy (who won an Emmy the night before for her work on The Crown) joined us for a Q&A to talk about the look of the movie, the intensity of the film’s hacker protagonist Lisbeth Salander, a sex scene that was removed from the film, Foy’s feelings about playing the role in the midst of the #MeToo movement, and much more.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web Footage Recap and Reaction
Alvarez showed off about 20 minutes of the movie, which introduces us to Lisbeth Salander (Foy), a hacker living in Stockholm, Sweden who’s sort of an avenging angel trying to ruin the lives of evil men who abuse women. The footage kicked off with Lisbeth dramatically taking down a vicious husband who beats his wife by tying him up, shocking him with a taser, and transferring all of his money to the wife and two other women he’s assaulted. (Like much of what we saw, long stretches of this footage are spread throughout the trailers.)
After going home and taking a shower, Lisbeth immediately heads out to a rave, where she settles into a corner and smokes a cigarette all alone; she must surround herself with flashing lights and chaos to relax, because if she finds herself alone with her thoughts, she begins thinking back to her relationship with her sister, who Lisbeth thinks killed herself years prior. (The trailers suggest her assumption is incorrect.)
We saw a brief scene in which we learned that journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason), the previous protagonist of the Dragon Tattoo stories, hasn’t written in some time, and then we’re quickly thrown into what I presume to be the primary thrust of the film. Salander is contacted by a National Security Agency employee (Stephen Merchant) who wants her to steal “the sum of all his sins”: a program called Firefall that gives its user the ability to remotely access nuclear weapons. In a somewhat goofy scene, Lisbeth hacks into the NSA computer where another agent played by LaKeith Stanfield works. There’s a nice long continuous shot of Stanfield hurrying back to his desk to try to pull the plug on his device before Lisbeth gets access, but she’s too fast for him – she’s so good, in fact, that she somehow makes a digital middle finger pop up on his screen.
Back at her place, Lisbeth – decked out in a black T-shirt that says “Gimme Head Til I’m Dead” on it – encounters masked intruders, who shoot at her and blow up her apartment with her still inside; she manages to survive only by leaping into the bathtub and dodging the oncoming flames. We’ve seen scenes like this dozens of times, but Alvarez does add a cool touch I don’t remember seeing before: during the explosion, he cuts to an extreme wide shot of Lisbeth’s apartment so the explosion only takes up a very small portion of the screen, and a wave of car alarms slides toward the camera to indicate the devastating effects of the blast.
As the police arrive, Lisbeth recovers and escapes in the nick of time on her motorcycle, outrunning her pursuers by speeding away across a frozen lake.
The film has the icy look of a modern James Bond movie, and the 007 resemblance doesn’t stop there: at one point Lisbeth gets debriefed by Merchant sitting on a bench in a museum, the motorcycle chase across a frozen surface seemed ripped straight out of a Bond film, and the way the movie handles technology has the air of a slick action movie instead of anything approaching reality. The trailers indicate that Lisbeth’s sister, with whom she was separated at a young age, is the one orchestrating all of Lisbeth’s problems, which, regrettably, is very similar to the way Eon handled the relationship between Christoph Waltz’s Blofeld and Daniel Craig’s Bond in Spectre. Here’s hoping this film turns out better than that one.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web Q&A
You can watch the entire Q&A in the video above, but I’ve transcribed a few of the highlights below if you’re looking for the quick version.
Fede Alvarez on why it was important for him to co-write the film as well as direct it:
“They allowed me to be a writer on it, which allows me to usually take this – whether it’s the story, the book, the material – and take a little bit more of the themes that are a little more personal to me, that I care about. Books have many, many themes, and when you condense them in two hours, you have to pick the ones that are relevant for you, mostly. And the challenge was obviously to find someone who will agree…which is kind of the first conversation we had with Claire. There would be no movie without her. We met in New York and sat down and I think we didn’t talk about the script or the movie or the other movies or anything like that. We talked about families and how we relate to each other and why that’s so interesting and complex and painful, and that the movie was basically going to talk about that. That’s how we started, when Claire said, ‘Sounds cool.’”
Claire Foy on the intensity of the character of Lisbeth Salander:
“I was never really worried about the intensity of it, or the inherent energy of that character and how she is. The fight that she has or the aggression or rage that she appears to have. That never really bothered me because I’m a very rageful and vengeful person. (laughs) No, I don’t know why, but that was just something that I got about her. I understood what she was fighting against and for, in herself and outside, and that was the thing that I inherently understood about the character and made me want to play it and made me want to have my own go at portraying that.”
Foy on playing a queer character in a heterosexual and male-dominated landscape, and the sex scene that ended up on the cutting room floor:
“The thing I love about her so much is her unwillingness to be identified in any particular way. She rejects any labeling, anything society wants to put on her, anything that anyone else wants to put on her. She lives entirely as herself, and therefore she will seek pleasure where she seeks pleasure – whether that’s with a man, or a woman, or on her own. She has absolutely no judgment or ability to identify with other people in that way, and therefore she treats other people in that way as well, which means that she’s incredibly open…I think we could do with more people who are open to absolutely everything and therefore accept that in other people as well.
What I found so important about that, and me and Fede spoke about it as well, was that it doesn’t become a cliche or a tool by which to say, ‘This person has sex with women and she’s a woman and therefore that tells you something about her.’ I don’t think that’s true. Ultimately, it’s about the person and finding the truth of that person. Originally there was this sort of sex scene thing. Ugh. It just wasn’t included because it didn’t serve the character. There was no purpose to it. And the last thing anyone would ever want to do is put a random titillating thing in there if it doesn’t serve the purpose of the story.”
A journalist asked if the filmmakers viewed Lisbeth as a superhero, considering she has a secret identity, gadgets, a lair, a vehicle, and an ally who’s a reporter. Alvarez responded:
“We cannot take credit, because a lot of [those] things are in the books. We do take it further, I think, and we naturally took elements that for me as a filmmaker who’s a fan of films from the ’90s, naturally you go to a lot of those tropes…
The main thing you’ll note from the first twenty minutes and you’ll see in the movie is that this is the first movie that’s about her. All the other movies, she’s the whole deal, but it’s Mikael Blomkvist’s story. He’s the guy you relate to. It’s harder to relate to her, naturally, because she’s so different from you. She’s always the character that you follow and Blomkvist is trying to chase behind her, and you cut to her – what’s she doing? But the main character is Mikael Blomkvist. The main character you connect with at the beginning of the first book and all the books and the movies that have been made is that character, and she is the unicorn…this is the first time that we dared to tell a story 100% about her.”
Be sure to check out the video for the full conversation, including the quotes about how Lisbeth is a “feminist Batman” and Foy’s thoughts about the character in the era of #MeToo.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web hits theaters on November 9, 2018.
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