Trailers for David Fincher’s adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo present the viewer with a collage of dark images flying at them furiously. There are people hiding in corners and in plain sight and a frail, young punk fighting, crying, and riding her way through life. There’s blood running down faces and, of course, the snow (all that snow). Tattoo is being marketed as “The Feel Bad Movie of Christmas,” and if the trailer wasn’t enough to convince a suspicious moviegoer of such a claim, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s score will seal the deal.
It’s a wonder Fincher hadn’t worked with Reznor and Ross on soundtracks prior to their Academy Award-winning score to The Social Network. Fincher did feature a remix of Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” during the opening credits to Se7en and directed the video for “Only” a few years ago, but after the Tattoo soundtrack, it’s hard to imagine Fincher going to anyone else from here on out. He’s found the Herrmann to his Hitchcock, the Williams to his Spielberg. The latest collaboration is an exercise in the kind of deep, dark storytelling both Fincher and Reznor have embraced over the past 20 years.
Without giving too much away, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo tells a story of secrets coming to the forefront after years of being kept in the dark. The combination of disturbing truths and lost innocence is orchestrated brilliantly in the score. Reznor and Ross use chimes that sound as though they’re coming at the listener directly from a child’s music box, only to be underscored with foreboding synthesizers. “While Waiting” and “Millenia” even feature angelic voices, before the menace creeps in during their conclusions. “The Seconds Drag” incorporates a ticking clock throughout, with that aforementioned chime and light tap layering over it from moment to moment.
The score isn’t solely for fans of slow tempos, though. Oftentimes, the music revs up in a jarring fashion, a tactic Reznor has used to great effect in other works. “A Thousand Details” begins with piano, before upbeat rhythms and distortion overtake it completely. “Oraculum” is a flurry of electronic drumbeats that builds and builds until dying out in the end. Beeps and bleeps are accompanied by slashing guitar noise and synths in “Infiltrator”. It isn’t hard to picture the heroes of the picture finding out the truth or taking action to any of these selections, and it is here Reznor and Ross find much success. The music paints the picture perfectly.
Two cover songs bookend the nearly three hours of instrumentals. The covers aren’t obvious in any way, with the first a reframing of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”. Reznor hands lead vocals not to a Robert Plant soundalike, but to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O., who is more than up to the task. Her band’s last album placed them in a new direction, so she fits in quite comfortably over the electrified beats and hard-hitting synths. It’s the second cover, however, that’s truly out of left field. How to Destroy Angels’ cover of Bryan Ferry’s “Is Your Love Strong Enough” is a complete makeover. Mariqueen Maandig, Reznor’s wife, sings delicate lead before Reznor’s voice makes an appearance near song’s end, without a hint of the 1980s to be found. Whoever predicted a cover song written for Ridley Scott’s Legend would make its way onto a David Fincher soundtrack, you may collect your winnings.
Reznor and Ross don’t seem interested in creating one piece of music for future play in trailers. The main themes from Superman or Star Wars don’t face competition from a single track here, but that isn’t the point. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is all about mood and atmosphere, and the duo have provided more than enough. Fincher’s film will be criticized for its timing (a highly successful Swedish adaptation was released only two years ago), but the music truly stands on its own.
Essential Tracks: “While Waiting”, “Immigrant Song”, and “A Thousand Details”