A few weeks ago, the husband and I saw a terrific movie, featuring the most compelling female character I’ve seen on the big screen in years. Lisbeth Salander is a brilliant young hacker with a history of abuse and a definite edge. On these shores, the film about her character is called The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. (In this country, Canada and the UK, look for the book with the same name, by the late Stieg Larsson.) In Sweden, where the film was made, and elsewhere in Europe, book and film appear under their original name: Men Who Hate Women.
If you’ve seen the film, you know: this title is a better fit.
So why the change?
Turns out, other countries freely rename our movies — just as we rename theirs. And they don’t necessarily dumb them down or clean them up much at all. Not when China can change Boogie Nights to “His Great Device Makes Him Famous.”
My favorites (among many) follow.
Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind: “If You Leave Me, I Delete You”
The Matrix: “The Young People Who Traverse Dimensions While Wearing Sunglasses”
Risky Business: “Just Send Him To University Unqualified”
Annie Hall: “The Urban Neurotic”
From the Czech Republic:
Bad Santa: “Santa Is A Pervert”
And Mexico hits the big spoiler button with this:
Thelma and Louise: “An Unexpected End”
More delightful finds are available here.
An explanation for the name changes of American film titles is available on this page — including the reasoning behind the distribution of “Wall Street” as “Stock Exchange”, and “The Lovely Bones” as “Looking From Heaven”, overseas. It comes down to what’s more familiar to the audience. People are more likely to see a film if it references a concept they understand. Wall Street? If you live in Turkey, those are two nouns. A stock market: now that makes sense.
On the name change with the Swedish film, I sensed that we were dealing with something else. This short and chilly article from the Telegraph offers insight. People in Sweden, and many other European nations, would read a novel or a see a movie called Men Who Hate Women — but in English-speaking nations? That’s too big a leap for us.
The names we give things say so much. They say what we think, for better and for worse. They say what we want, what we feel, how we’d like others to see us. (While I’m on the subject: why have so many American movies had the word “hard” in the title, or “dark”? What’s our deal with -ing words — we’re forgetting Sarah Marshall, dancing in the dark, singing in the rain, waking the dead; can’t we just knock it off and take a nap?)
Like the names we give our children, names of films reveal our hopes and dreams. At the same time, the dark inverse of every dream is right there. What we hope reveals our fear, and both are possible.
But I still wish the translators of the Swedish works had trusted us with that original title. To live in a world ignorant of fear, or pretending that what you fear does not exist: this is how it feels to be truly imprisoned.