Analysis and Comparison of The Girl with the Dragon
Tattoo and Black Swan
In order to
critically review the institutional context of creative media and evaluate its
influence on production, I will compare Black
Swan and The Girl with the Dragon
Black Swan is a 108 min Drama/ Thriller released on the 3rd
December 2010. The storyline follows the main character’s (Nina) twisted
development as she competes with her rival dancer for the position of prima
ballerina in the opening production of Swan Lake. The plot focuses on the
movement between light and dark and the recklessness that can threaten a young
ballerina as she struggles with her desire for success (Fox Searchlight).
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a 158 min Drama/Crime released on
the 21st December 2011. The storyline is based on Steig Larsson’s psychological
thriller novel and follows a disgraced journalist (Mikael), through an
investigation into a 40 year old unsolved murder on behalf of the victims uncle
(Henrik). The plot twists and converges with that of an outcast androgynous
hacker (Lisbeth), hired to investigate (Mikael), Lisbeth soon uncovers the
truth behind the conspiracy that resulted in Mikael’s disgrace. The draw closer
to evil as they unravel the history of sexual abuse and murder that has been
festering under the veneer of Sweden’s industrial past.
In order to
evaluate and compare, I will be analysing the following areas:
exact source production funds proved difficult to decipher, however, both films
were predominantly funded by a combination of production company collaborations
and varying degrees of product placement.
Both films were
produced by a conglomerate collaboration between Sony Picture Entertainment and
a number of smaller subsidies.
Black Swan was
produced by a number of production companies in association with each other.
These were Fox Searchlight Pictures, Cross Creek Pictures, Protozoa Pictures,
Phoenix Pictures and Dune Entertainment (IMBD).
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was produced by Columbia Pictures
(Owned by Sony Pictures entertainment) in conjunction with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
(MGM), Scott Rudin Productions, Yellow Bird, Film Bird, Film Rites and Ground
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo had considerably more product
placement than Black Swan as can be
seen from the breakdown below:
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Sony TVs and Sony phones
Billy’s frozen pizza (the novel refers to Lisbeth eating this quite
Chateau Clinet Wine
Nine Inch Nails Sweater: This is not really product placement but more
like homage to Trent Reznor’s music band Nine Inch Nails. Reznor and fellow
composer Atticus Ross composed the score for the movie.
Bobby Fischer’s 60 memorable games
Glory Motor Works (Lisbeth’s Motorcycle)
Purell Sanitizer: Purell was unaware of its placement and a
representative came forward to say that they would not endorse or promote
product placement of that kind.
Mostly sanitised of brands
Black Swan Ballet – NY Show saw an increase in sales post film
Black Swan was distributed mostly by 20th Century Fox, however
some elements were also distributed by either smaller distributors or other
major distribution companies depending on the country; for example, 20th
Century Fox theatrically distributed the film through Warner Bros in the
Netherlands (IMDb). Other countries such
as Front Row Filmed Entertainment, an independent company created in 2003 that
has surfaced as a dominant film distribution company in the Middle East (Front
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was distributed by a number of
countries on a global scale, namely Song Picture house and Walt Disney Studios
Motion Pictures (IMDb). However, similar to Black Swan, The Girl with the
Dragon Tattoo was distributed by a number of smaller independent companies on a
national level, such as, Acme Film Company, on of the largest independent film
distributors in the Baltic States (Acme Film Company). Again similar to the
Black Swan, a number of smaller subsidiary companies of both Sony and Walt
Disney were used for both theatrical and DVD release, such as B&H Film
distribution in Ukraine (IMDb).
underwent a similar distribution process; both were released using a mixture of
international and national companies, with smaller distribution companies
aligning with the dominant distributors to target specific audiences within
their respective countries. However, despite some of the theatrical
distribution being performed at a national or regional level, all DVD and
Blue-ray releases were distributed and controlled by either 20th Century Fox
(IMDb), in the case of the Black Swan or Sony in the case of The Girl with the
In order for
films to receive their regulation grading, films must adhere to a number of
laws and ethical constraints that undoubtedly have an impact on production. Arguably
the most prominent Act being the Video Recording Act 1984 which requires the
British Board of Film Classification to consider ‘whether or not video works
are suitable for a classification certificate to be issued to them, having
special regard to the likelihood of video works … being viewed in the home’
and to consider whether a video was ‘not suitable for viewing by persons who
have not attained a particular age’ or whether ‘no video recording containing
that work is to be supplied other than in a licensed sex shop’. However the
1984 Act has since been replaced in 2010 to amend a procedural error (bbfc).
during the 80s, production houses went through a spree of adapting low cost and
violent American and Italian horror films to increase revenue. As no
classification system was in place, young children were able to rent VHF videos
later describes as ‘video nasties’ (tvtropes), as a result films such as
‘snuff’, ‘Last Orgy of the Third Reich’ and ‘The Mountain of the Cannibal God’
were readily available to young children.
The James Bulger
case caused controversy as the two youngest convicted murderers, two ten year
old boys, were sentenced for a heineous murder that resembled a scene from Child’s
Play 3; although, investigations later dismissed this claim as it was unlikely
the young boy whose father had rented the film a few months before the attack
had seen the film, however, this development was not widely publicised by the
media and the lasting paranoia of video nasties has lingered within the public
domain (Law Teacher, n.d).
As a result of
the introduction of classification, some production houses will exclude aspects
of a plot or minimise the obtrusive nature of a topic in order to receive a
lower age rating, thus in turn appealing to a wider audience, leading to an
increase in profit. However, this is not the case with all films intended for
mainstream cinema, as is the case with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,
received some negative reactions due to the extent to which graphic scenes of
violence and sexual scenes depicted throughout.
For example, a
media review site contained a string of complaints against the films pervasive
nature. Notably though, there is a difference between the age rating given by
parents compared to what ‘kids say’, perhaps because of the protective nature
that parents have for their children that they are far more cautious than their
younger counterparts. Another argument for the difference is the changing
landscape of media and content consumption, such as ease of content engagement
through the internet and the rise of violent games such as Grand Theft Auto,
which whilst such areas of media still have prescribed ratings, in the age of
the internet, it is far easier to gain access to such products; thus increasing
the resilience or minimising the shock factor of violence and sex.
Similarly, Black Swan generated a number of
complaints as some found the film too ‘intense for young minds’ (commonsense
media, n.d) and content such as the masturbation scene to be too mature for the
age 15 rating it was given in the UK. From a distribution perspective, the age
15 rating is beneficial for sales, as previously mentioned.
applied a number of different promotional strategies that also reflect the
stylistic theme continued throughout.
The Black Swan Trailer echoes Aronofsky’s
signature stylistic characteristics such as the almost agonisingly obsessive
tone that he applies to his work in order to pull the audience into the psychological
fragility of his characters. The success of audience captivation of the
promotional strategy and also of the film itself, are reflected in the
financial numbers of budget to profit statistics.
The Girl with
the Dragon Tattoo implemented a number of abridged content to build an
underground hype for the film; such as whatishiddeninsnow.com and
mouth-taped-shut.com which both offer the audience clues, which if successfully
followed up will reward the viewer with props from the film. Another marketing strategy implemented was
simply the actors and their presence on the red carpet tour.
Both Black Swan
posters challenge Natalie’s classical ‘light’ beauty to reveal an element of
what’s to come within the film; such as the crack in Natalie’s porcelain like
skin and face.
Compared to The Girl with the dragon tattoo
which some may argue does not reflect the core intended message of violence
against women or the psychological turmoil that ensues as a result throughout
the film, instead the marketing team chose to cast the figurative spot light
onto Daniel Craig; Rooney Mara is either cast as a striking backdrop or is
stripped from her jeans up, with the exception of Daniel Craig’s arm covering
her chest, a hint towards the classic bond girl beauty that Hollywood utilises
to attract viewers, again a marketing conflict between the film’s narrative, the
marketing images used in the posters and the underlying message intended from
the qualitative success of the marketing strategies, the quantitative fiscal
success of the budget to Domestic Total Gross can be measured and compared, as
Black Swan (Box
Budget – $13,000,000
Gross – $106,954,678
The Girl With
The Dragon Tattoo (Box Office Mojo)
Budget – $90,000,000
Gross – $102,515,793
Not only from a
financial perspective can the Black Swan
been argued as the greater success of the two texts, but also of the fact that
despite over 65 million copies of The
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo that have been sold worldwide (signature reads,
2011), that the domestic gross is only approximately $10,000,000 from the film
is not respectively that impressive. The success of Black Swan is further
illustrated by the numerous awards that both Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman won
for their parts within the text.
In order to
analyse the reception of the products, I will be applying a number of
theoretical approaches to how the films were received by the audience. Semiotics
are used throughout to signify different aspects of the messages implied
throughout; semiotics, according to Barthes, means that anything in culture can
be a sign and send a specific message. In his Mythologies Barthes describes
some methods of “deciphering” these messages. (Sbu.edu n.d.)
Due to the
mature content within both film’s narratives and themes the intended
demographic would be intended for 18 – 30 female. However, perhaps a more in
depth analysis of consumer representation is to study the psychographic nature
of the audience; combining demographic analysis alongside their psychological
attributes to develop an increasingly detailed consumer profile (business
dictionary, n.d). Both texts appeal to those with an explorative interest into
the psyche of those that may seem different from society’s norms is a shared
defining theme that appeals to a particular psychographic target audience.
It is also
important to note that both texts are lean back as the viewer does not actively
control the flow of information (research-methodology, Katz, 2010), rather they
‘lean back’ to observe a pre-established pattern of information being presented
to them. Another prominent feature of both films is that the content of the texts
very much appeals to the active viewer as a number of social and personal
issues are addressed in a purposefully, often quite violent thought provoking
thriller genre signifiers have been immersed throughout the production process.
For example, both films utilise creative lighting and darkness throughout in
order to draw on the audience’s subliminal mind.
The use of
camera work within Black Swan is particularly striking, at times the movement
almost suggests that the camera has a mind of it’s own, a symbolism of Nina’s
unstable psyche. The use of cinematography in both films reflects the dark
genre of both films. Jeff Cronenweth was employed to navigate the
cinematographic style of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Jeff is renowned for
his work on other texts that have a dark and twisted feel, including Fight
Club, Gone Girl and se7evn; his style is moody but realistic, he is able to
bring a cold and almost haunting feel that still resonates a depth of intimacy
between the audience and the characters.
Music is an
integral part of both films, Trent Reznor for nine inch nails and Atticus Ross
collaborated to create a bespoke 39 song playlist to accompany The Girl with
the Dragon Tattoo, the playlist is full of eery horror style sound effects and
in many of the songs, the notes almost spell the sound of screams. In contrast,
Black Swan mostly uses a compilation of a mixture of songs as filler background
to detail as well as the overarching mise en scene style results in two
defiantly haunting yet aesthetically beautiful products that ring true to their
There are a
number of messages that are present in both texts and an analysis of the
discourse around the two films reflects the mixed interpretations of the films
messages. Throughout The Girl with the
Dragon Tattoo, violence against women is the most prominent theme. The film
is based on the novel by Steig Larsson, its full title in Swedish is, Män som
hatar kvinnor; literally translating to, “Men who hate women”(Goodreads, n.d)
Lisbeth is the prevailing result of an abusive life, from her childhood to her
Many of themes
addressed within The Girl with the Dragon
Tattoo reflect an area of interest that preoccupied Steig Larsson, the
author of original novel, from a young age. In an article included in the
Finanical Times, Larsson is described as having been a “fervent advocate
of women’s rights” and an “anti-facist” that was “far more
interested in the subversive element in popular culture, how books and films
dealt with social trends. He enjoyed films that were anathema to the
left.” (Jan-Erik Pettersson, Financial Times, 2011)
projects the disciplined and obsessive nature of the ballet world, a reflection
of the reality within the industry as affirmed during an interview given on the
production process of attempting to enter such an allusive professional clique;
‘They don’t give a shit about anything but ballet. They really don’t care. They
don’t care about movies, it’s not their art. It’s some kind of popular culture
kind of thing, I guess. They’re really focused on their ballet.’
Both films feature heavily on
feminism and the female psyche throughout. The Black Swan addresses issues to do with professional success and the
sacrifices that women often feel they must make, during the film Nina begins to mutilate herself, a
reflection of the self destructive behaviours often found within society.
Demonstrating how she must fight with her own self in order to convincingly
play the part of a character that is demanded of her in order for her to
succeed, the film references the duality that affects many women and the envy
that can often come from this. Nina attraction to Lily’s passion over
perfection, the opposite of Nina’s ambitions for perfection and the good girl/
bad girl internal struggle; through a combination of topics including
sexuality, lesbian and parental relationships, ageing, seduction and sacrifice,
the film explores the world in which women feel the need to morph and cut away
aspects of themselves in order to integrate into a system that accepts them as
more than simply a novelty suited to one aspect of what is deemed acceptable.
feature scenes and elements within their plot that are particularly relevant in
the current Hollywood climate, both highlight the perverse notions between
female success and the patriarchal society and ethos of female dependency on
the control of men in higher positions that are often dominated by the notion
of an inner circle or ‘brotherhood’, such reflections can be seen in systematic
notions that are currently being challenged with movements such as #TimesUp and
may argue that both films use female characters that whilst in someway defy the
female stereotype, have been used to perpetuate some of the subversive and
hegemonic perversions within Hollywood, whilst both contain main female
characters that in some way defy the classic movie damsel in distress cliché,
they both still exploit the beauty standards of the actresses involved, and
exploit elements of this to increase viewer attraction; for example the lesbian
scene in Black Swan became a well referenced snippet within the wider
conversation about the depiction of queer female sexuality as something being depicted for male pleasure only.
Similarly, in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Lisbeth, who remains devoid of
intimacy for much of the film has her love rejected by Mikael in favour for the
more mainstream female character Erika; subliminally resonating the message of
female quirks and the constraint within which they may stray from the
mainstream concept of normal.
above, both films are dark and emotionally charged and portray the struggle
between light and darkness/ good and evil through their developing narratives
which dance their audiences through a twisted choreography of character ,
leading to dramatic climaxes that resonate with Cesar A. Cruz’s quote “Art
should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable” (Goodreads,
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Black Swan. Dir. Darren Aronofsky. Perf. Natalie
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