The absence of a dragon tattoo is the last thing people are noticing about the international poster for David Fincher's remake of the Swedish thriller. 
9 Jun 2011 - 12:00 AM  UPDATED 6 Nov 2012 - 3:30 AM

Trust David Fincher to be the filmmaker who reminds us that in this era of multiple trailers and plot-revealing online preview clips, the humble movie poster can still raise the collective temperature. A provocative one sheet for the director's English language version of Stieg Larsson's worldwide best seller, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, has been inspiring debate, scorn and plaudits in equal measure online over the last few days.

The black and white poster for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – which opens in Australia on January 12, 2012 – is ostensibly for the European market, but at this early stage it already appears to be a question of which territories will allow it to be hung in cinemas. The presence of Rooney Mara's pierced nipple is covered up by release dates in some versions, but if it was merely a matter of excessive bare skin this would simply be a familiar case of marketing by titillation.

What matters to many is that Mara is playing Lisbeth Salander, one of the iconic literary characters of this century. A brilliant, anti-social computer hacker, Salander is a young woman who refuses to take a step backwards – at the first sign of male aggression she literally starts fighting. In the book, as well as Niels Arden Oplev's capable 2009 Swedish adaptation, Salander is brutally raped by her state-appointed guardian, who she subsequently takes righteous revenge upon.

Given such circumstances, not to mention her predilection for spiky clothing, Salander aficionados are perplexed that she's topless in the image, with co-star Daniel Craig standing behind her with an arm around her. The poster has already provoked a Zapruder film-like level of scrutiny: is Mara's stance submissive or aggressive? Is her use of sexuality a projection of force or fantasy? Is Craig's arm holding her back or allowing her to hold him up? Is this true to the book or selling it out? The only thing anyone can agree on is that Daniel Craig looks particularly glum.

“Lisbeth is not supposed to be hot,” argues one aggrieved fan of the character, but it's also true that she's far from asexual in the original text. The image, like the character, is open to multiple interpretations. And while a poster can only raise more questions than it answers, it does make clear that the filmmaker, fresh from acclaimed The Social Network, will as ever be following his own vision, and that he and the hand-picked Mara may have a different take on Lisbeth Salander than the impressive one already delivered by Noomi Rapace.

A teaser trailer for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo also appeared recently, with initial versions deliberately looking like they'd been jerkily recorded with a video camera off a cinema screen. Amidst the rush of images was a simple promise: “The Feel Bad Movie of Christmas”. If that's the case, the poster may simply be the first step.