The Hero’s journey is a classic form of storytelling that has been used for thousands of years. All stories share common elements in their structure. In today’s modern films the representations of these elements have been warped and twisted but remain for the most part unchanged. This paper follows the foreign film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo directed by Niels Arden Oplev and based on the book by Stieg Larsson through the Hero’s Journey.
There was something lost in watching the film with subtitles; by not knowing the language there is an element lost in the film. “however, in an effort to have the subtitles match the action on screen, the subtlety, idiom, and nuance of a language are often and by necessity, neglected. ” (Barsam & Monahan, 2010) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in essence tells two parallel Hero’s Journey’s which mesh and split over the course of the film. In the Ordinary World we’re introduced to Mikale Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) and Lizbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace).
We find Mikale a defeated investigative journalist found guilty of libel and Lizbeth a 24 quiet, Goth hacker. Mikale’s sentence appears as a Call to Adventure with him spend more time with his sister and relatives before he’s due to serve his jail time. In the context of the film it is the beginning of his journey. The Call to Adventure is typically characterized by a challenge or problem being introduced or becoming more significant. Lizbeth’s is the appointment of her new guardian; a cruel and abusive man that takes control of her life.
Mikale’s Call to Adventure is being contacted by billionaire Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) to investigate the disappearance of his niece Harriet, who vanished 40 years ago. The Refusal of the Call is an unwillingness to change to meet the challenge or solve the problem. This is seen in the film by Lizbeth waling out of a meeting with her guardian after refusing to answer questions about her life. With Mikale the Refusal is shown by his reluctance to the investigation for Henrik brought on by his defeat in court. The Meeting of the Mentor involves overcoming this reluctance and initial problem.
In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo the mentor for either Lizbeth or Mikale is different from the norm usually associated with the role. For Lizbeth dealing with the abusive guardian she is mentored in dealing with this problem by drawing from herself and her past experiences, using her own talents to solve her issues with him permanently. Mikale’s mentor is not one person but two; he is encouraged by both Henrik and Harriet through the things and words she left behind. In Crossing the Threshold the hero accepts the challenge entering into the special world.
Mikale enters the special world is signified twice in the film; first when he agrees to investigate Harriet’s disappearance and second when he arrives where she disappeared a remote, gloomy island with chilling weather and frost residents. Lizbeth Crosses the Threshold in two different times in the film first when she is forced to deal with her guardian when she needs money for a new computer and then when she emails Mikale involving herself in the world he is submersed in. The Tests, Allies, and Enemies section is the section of the journey where the hero encounters tests and meets allies and enemies just as the title implies.
In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo the Tests, Allies, and Enemies is a rather long stretch of the film that despite its length maintains interest and suspense. This section of the journey can be split in half. In the first half Lizbeth and Mikale continue along the own Hero’s Journey; in the second half their journey’s have merged together. In the first half Lizbeth faces several tests and confronts her enemy. Her tests manifest in her abuse at the hands of her guardian and her subsequent defeat of him completing in a way Lizbeth’s minor Hero’s Journey.
Lizbeth’s next significant test is where her journey begins to mesh with Mikale’s. During Mikale’s first half of the Tests, Allies, and Enemies section he begins to sort through the mounds of evidence and information accumulated over the years. His first test begins with him reigniting his journalistic spark for him to truly investigate this mystery. During the beginning of his investigation he is introduced or told of the other members of the Vanger family where he seems to find allies in Martin Vanger (Peter Haber) and his wife.
With Henrik’s suspicions and information the rest of the Vanger family becomes his suspects and enemies. Mikale finds his allies in Henrik and chief of police Morell (Bjorn Granath). In the second half of the section the journeys of Lizbeth and Mikale mesh. “She finds her own emotional needs nurtured by the nature of the case” (Ebert, 2010) compelling Lizbeth to send Mikale an email when she notices a pattern while looking through his files. After initial contact they become allies in solving the case.
Working together as allies they discover a disturbing revelation about the nature of Harriet’s disappearance. Approaching the Inmost Cave is the stage where the hero prepares for the coming confrontation. This is where Mikale takes what he and Lizbeth have gathered to update Henrik. This leads the film to the Ordeal where the Hero faces the crisis, fear, and death. This manifests in the film with the family on the island confronting Mikale to express their concerns over his investigation, after which the island seems darker with suspicion everywhere.
The central point of the Ordeal is that after the meeting while running through the woods someone takes several shots at Mikale, nearly killing him. The Reward where the hero is rewarded for surviving the ordeal is represented in the film by Mikale and Lizbeth with help from Morell get the last clue that makes all the other pieces of the puzzle fit together. This sets them on the path to solving the mystery. The Road Back Sequence is the point in the journey where the hero recommits to completing the journey.
This is represented by Mikale and Lizbeth using the secret they discovered to find who they believe was responsible for all that happened. While Lizbeth investigates records for proof of identity Mikale investigates the suspect’s house where he is nearly shot, till he is rescued by one of his allies. Lizbeth makes a startling discovery in the records and rushes to alert Mikale, who has been captured by the one responsible. The Resurrection is where the Hero faces the final challenge on the threshold home.
This is shown when Mikale learns the truth straight from the mouth and his life hangs by a thread. As he faces death Lizbeth returns in time to save him. The police arrive and the truth comes out to all. The last part of the Hero’s Journey is the Return with the Elixir. This where has happened in the special world has benefits in the ordinary world. In the ordinary world Mikale revives a gift from Lizbeth while serving his sentence which helps with his renewed inspiration for journalism. Lizbeth takes from her journey the courage to make amends with her past and to move on with her future.