Little help, please

In Steven Rea’s Philadelphia Inquirer review today of some film based on an obscure novel by Stieg Larrson, he writes:

One of the most important questions to be asked in the late Swedish author’s mega-selling mystery The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo– the line “Do you want a coffee?” – makes it into David Fincher’s movie.

My questions are, 1, why is this so important? and, 2, accepting the convention that these Swedish characters are speaking English, why, since this is an American movie with an American director and American screenwriter, do they express themselves in Britishisms?

8 thoughts on “Little help, please

  1. Because the characters are Swedish and there needs to be some sort of differentiation between their English and American English? I admit a more Swedish (or swedefied) English might have been better all round, though.

  2. Not having read any of the books or seen any of the movies (the trilogy was originally filmed in Danish and Swedish, for any who may be unfamiliar), I can’t address your first question, but I suspect it involves some critical plot point, particularly since your question devolves directly from the review’s opening paragraph.
    As for your second question, you might try asking the guy who claims to be “Stieg Larsson’s English translator”. According to his blog, you can email him in Albuquerque at
    Let us know what you find out on the second question, since that relates to this blog. If I’m right on the first question, however, the answer could constitute a spoiler, so I really wouldn’t want to know.
    (Note: I originally included links to the movie review and to the translator’s blog in this reply, but then I remembered that WordPress destroys URLs before posting, so I removed them.)

  3. Hal, I want this answer without doing any additional work, so Mr. or Ms. bllozshooz will go un-e-mailed (by me). I think nakedlistener is probably on the right track–this seems to relate to the convention of Ben Hur and Spartacus-type movies, where the Romans (especially the bad Romans) have British accents.

  4. Not having seen the film, read the novel so do not know the context, but in the UK it can be a euphemism for – Do you want to have sex? – somewhat less blunt..

    Normally asked at the end of an evening after meeting someone in a bar, club or maybe on first date. Variations are: Do you want to come back for a coffee? – or if outside the person’s dwelling place – Do you want to come in for a coffee? Or ven just – Coffee?

    Coffee is rarely drunkon such occasions,

  5. I’m baffled. I read the novel this summer and didn’t remember this line. (The prose, at least in translation, is generally unmemorable.) I also saw the American movie last week and again that line didn’t stand out, though I don’t deny it was asked. But I read the book on my Nook, which is searchable, and it finds three instances of “a coffee,” but none of them in this context, and only one in this British fashion. (“He poured himself a coffee…”; the others are “hidden in a coffee tin,” which sounds British for a different reason, and “came in with a coffeepot,” which isn’t quite a match at all.)
    In any case, I believe the translator, Reg Keeland, is British. He writes “colour,” for example. The screenwriter, Steven Zaillian, on the other hand, is Californian, at least according to IMDB. He may have simply retained Mr. Keeland’s diction out of a desire for fidelity. Or it may be for the same reason that the director deliberately had the actors adopt mildly Swedish accents: to emphasize the foreignness (and remoteness) of the locale.
    I’ll add that to me there was only one memorable line in the novel. To avoid spoiling anything, I’ll just say that it began with “Hey” and is spoken by Salander just before she wields a golf club. Although I liked it, at the moment, on reflection it seemed like just another example of heroes who are too clever in the midst of action and danger. The film wisely abbreviated it to just “Hey.”

  6. P.S.: Still baffled. Thinking that perhaps the Nook’s search algorithm had missed a phrase split by a page break or something, I searched for “coffee.” I quickly recalled that, while cigarettes are an issue for the male lead in the novel, coffee is about as ubiquitous as air. The nights are very long in the winters which begin and end the story, after all, and the characters are trying to remain alert as they read through boxes and volumes of documents. Nonetheless, there is one instance where Salander makes an offer which appears in my copy as “Would you like some coffee?” I am also fairly sure that the subplot in which this occurs was not in the (American) film. It’s possible, though, that it was alluded to so briefly that I overlooked it but Larrson’s more devoted fans would have picked up on, and that this sentence was there. And it’s possible that it was rendered in the movie as “a coffee.” Or maybe the reviewer, Steven Rea, just remembered it that way. He was born in London, according to various online sources, though he grew up and works in the U.S.
    At a quick glance, the other 100+ occurrences of “coffee” look perfectly American, with the one or two exceptions noted previously.

  7. I believe one of Finchers major themes in his films is coffee, or the addiction to coffee (& cigarettes)

    after a bit of Salander sleuthing and came up with this.

    “Fincher turns his back on his prior extravagances, piecing together a considered, meditative police procedural minus the momentum. The genre, best exemplified in Kurosawa’s High and Low, is predicated on a presumption of inevitability where minutiae—late night gloom, manila folders piled high, CUPS OF COFFEE, listless cigarette plumes making fractal curls in pools of limpid light—is merely an egg-timer counted against inevitable catharsis: arrest, prosecution, and conviction.”

    its about half way down in the last paragraph.


  8. I think the point is that the film is true to its roots, i.e. it makes use of the original dialogue in the novel. That line was in the book, and it’s in the film, according to the review. The way it’s phrased; the line “makes it into the movie”; seems to imply this is its meaning.

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