Oh, what a tangled web we weave! The Vanger family: wealthy, powerful, private. What secrets do they hold on the remote Hedeby Island off Sweden’s coast in the movie The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo? Well, I’m not exactly going to tell you their secrets (that, dear readers, would be telling!), but I will provide you a who’s who so you can better sort through the good daughters and bad sons, the kindly elders and the brutal nephews and their role in the 40-year-old murder mystery at the core of David Fincher’s 2011 adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s powerful novel.
At the head of the family stands Henrik (Christopher Plummer), the Vanger family patriarch. Elderly and no longer the corporate lion he had been, retired head of the once-great Vanger Industries, he has been troubled for years by the disappearance of his grandniece Harriet, who vanished without a trace 40 years earlier. Although other family members see him as eccentric, perhaps even senile, Henrik hires Mikael Blomkvist ostensibly to craft his memoirs, but what’s really at stake is the resolution of the mystery—what happened to Harriet Vanger 40 years ago? Henrik believes that Harriet was murdered—and by someone in—or close to—the family. What he needs most, before he dies, is closure—he needs to know what happened to the teenage Harriet on that fateful day so long ago.
Harriet’s brother Martin (Stellan Skarsgard) is a complicated man. Replacing his great uncle Henrik’s as CEO of Vanger Industries, Martin has not been as successful, watching the corporation dwindle to a shadow of its former greatness. Although he is, at least on the surface, more welcoming of Mikael to the island—and more accessible—it’s easy to wonder if it’s all a façade put on for the company. After all, Martin’s grandfather Richard, and his uncle Harald were Nazis member of Sweden’s National Socialist Freedom League. As for Martin’s father Gottfried, he died while drunk when Martin was a teenager.
The 92-year old Harald is Henrik’s older brother. No one very much likes Harald, most especially his daughters Anita (Geraldine James) and Cecilia (Joley Richardson). Harald has little left in his life but his memories from long ago—his life as a dedicated Nazi. Having been influenced by Sweden’s ultra-Right nationalist parties in the 1930s while a student, Harald lectured and wrote, extolling the virtues of racial purity. He lives alone, surrounded by his old photographs—a virtual hermit on the island amidst a family who wants nothing to do with him.
Anita and Cecilia
Harald’s daughters are estranged both from their father and the rest of the Vanger family. Anita escaped Hedeby Island when she was 18, where she dissociated herself from the family, never contacting any of them. Closer to Harriet than any other family member, if anyone would know what became of her, certainly Anita would. And Mikael endeavors to find her—trying to solve the mystery of Harriet’s disappearance. Cecilia has spent her entire life on the island, yet is probably no closer to her family than is her sister.
Isabella is Martin and Harriet’s mother. Ghostly pale, she radiates an iciness that matches her pale blue eyes and white skin. About the only person with whom she associates is her late husband’s uncle Harald.
Although she doesn’t appear in the movie, Harriet’s ghost pervades the story—the catalyst for the rest of the action. Living on Hedeby Island with the rest of her extended family, Harriet failed to appear at a family dinner 40 years ago. Seemingly vanished without a trace, it seemed impossible that the teenage girl would have left the island; an automobile accident had blocked the only access off the island and into mainland Sweden. So how could she have run away? And why would she? That is the heart of the mystery to be uncovered by investigative reporter Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) and his assistant, computer hacker extraordinaire Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara).
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo will be released on Blu-ray and DVD March 20, and is now available for pre-order.