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Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is one of the biggest literary phenomenons of the last decade, selling 18 million copies in the United States alone; last summer you couldn't take a single subway ride in New York City without seeing someone reading the book, and it was just as likely to be a man or a woman holding that lime-green cover in their hands. But when it comes to the forthcoming movie adaptation by David Fincher, the anticipated audience seems to be overwhelmingly male-- according to numbers at Vulture, while 83% of women over 25 and 79% of women under 25 are aware of the movie, only 36% of either group have a "definite interest" in seeing it. Men tend to be less aware of the movie overall, but an equal percentage of them want to see it.
So what gives? How are 71% of the fans on the official Dragon Tattoo novel Facebook page female, and yet none of them are all that interested in seeing the movie? Vulture throws around a ton of theories, mostly revolving around the fact that the trailers for the film look grim and violent, and no matter how much they enjoyed the books, women aren't going to pay to subject themselves to that during the holidays, especially when there are a ton of other movies out there angling for their attention. And it's true, there is a difference between reading scenes of violent torture and rape and then actually seeing them on the screen-- your imagination can protect you from a lot of things that are simply too horrifying to see acted out.
But I think the answer revolves more around the different ways you experience books and movies. Books are a personal experience, something you immerse yourself in at the exclusion of everybody else-- you don't go to the movies by yourself but you do read a book alone, meaning you don't have to talk anyone else into joining you for the experience. Women, especially those over 25, are hugely likely to have kids, and the commitment of hiring a babysitter so they can go see Dragon Tattoo is far more significant than reading 20 pages of the book at a time before bed. In Stieg Larsson's novels, you can immerse yourself in the world of Lisbeth and Mikael on your own schedule; for the 2-hour-plus David Fincher movie, you've got to dig into that horror and depression for the long haul. It's a lot to ask of anybody, regardless of gender.
Sony is still expecting Dragon Tattoo to be a reasonably sized hit, and who knows what might happen after the holidays, when people decide they have the time to catch up with the adaptation of a book they love. If you're still on the fence you can check out either my review or Eric's review, both raves, to find out why it's worth taking the plunge into the Swedish darkness. And in case you didn't hear, the movie is now opening a day earlier, on December 20, giving you extra time to settle into the gloom before gearing up for the cheer of the holidays.