“In A Better World” (2001)

14 May

So, here is the thing about In a Better World.

1. The original Danish title was “The Revenge” and I swear whoever decided to change it to this needs to be introduced to like, the whole point of the film. The English title is so WTF and random once you actually watch it. I honestly don’t even have a clue what the translators were referring to.

2. The main character is played by this dude who is in this movie very tall and broad and when he takes his shirt off he doesn’t look like he got his muscle tone from going to the gym. He looks like he got it from chopping wood and carrying water from the well and building a house with his bare hands. He’s huge, and coded masculine in every way, visually, but at the same time he’s a doctor. I guess in Denmark doctors get a hell of a workout? (He’s also got tons of little tattoos in various places, if that’s your thing.) And doctor means – and this is also the defining characteristic of his character – intellectual, a gentle, loving, kind man. Most of the movie he spends hanging with his sons, 12 and 8.

He helps them fix their bikes, he takes them for ice cream, he sits with them by the lake and ruffles their hair as they watch the sunset. He hugs them, he carries them, he kisses their cheeks, he tells them he loves them and cuddles them close. He is literally, the kindest, most affectionate dad, and that’s basically the whole point of his character. He’s got these expressive blue eyes to go with his otherwise intimidating muscles and height so basically. He’s the dude romance novels keep trying to create but FAIL. He’s the misogyny free, non condescending, well written version of that ideal and it’s fucking magnificent.

He spends most of this movie telling his sons how violence is wrong, how nothing is ever solved by hitting back, and then going out and allowing himself to get slapped around by some dude right in front of them to make that point. Er, it actually makes sense as part of the plot, but if you’re thinking “wait, kink_bingo?” I assure you, like any good fanfic this movie fills SEVERAL squares. Also, the main character takes his clothes off TWICE during the movie, the female lead (who is awesome) never does.

3. So, I enjoyed very much the bits of this movie set in Denmark (er, I mean, there’s more than hot dude being hot, there’s a plot and a meta plot and gorgeous cinematography and so on, I liked the movie!) but then there were the other 20-30% of the movie set in Sudan that I… really wish I could pretend were not actually part of this film. Our main character is indeed a doctor, but he actually works in Africa (it’s never identified as Sudan in the film and was shot in Kenya but part of the problem is that the setting basically African Refugee Camp Filled With Violence And Dying Black People and isn’t put in any kind of social-political context).

Honestly, the fact that this movie won an Oscar and none of the reviews I saw – reading through a few select ones, true, but seriously – mentioned the fail of the Sudan parts of the movie… I don’t even know. Like, Sudan is basically used as a metaphor for the problems of Danish society and an illustration of the main character’s angst. It’s not quite as bad as “white people ponder their lives as black people die in the background,” and some of the locals get speaking parts and are not stereotypes, but… it’s still using the African storyline as metaphor, essentially, and just… no. No no no. Essentially the main character ponders the nature of violence in society, goes to Africa (unnamed country! random ~Africa~) where he’s surrounded by endless, seemingly unsolvable, brutal violence, and this triggers various events and responses in his life back in Denmark.

D: D: D: Seriously? Oh my God no.

4. So, um, I really loved 70% of this movie, and wish to pretend the other 30% do not exist, basically, and because of those 30% I can not BELIEVE it won the Oscar over Biutiful, even though I’m also kind of glad, since the director is a woman and there are like, 2 women to have ever won Oscars for directing, ever. Sigh.

5. So, I read an interview with Susanne Bier, the director, where she said they wanted to make the film to counter this notion that Danish society is basically all pleasantries and cupcakes, as if everyone’s always really chillaxed and calm and polite over there. I am… EXTREMELY AMUSED that this is the movie she made to illustrate this, considering the ENTIRE MOVIE my friend and I were LOLing over how this movie makes it seem like there are no real social problems in Denmark and when a kid brings a knife to school – a kitchen knife ffs! – THE POLICE GET INVOLVED and the parents are all SUPPORTIVE AND KIND and do not in any way – GOD FORBID! – punish the child or yell at him or whatever. Everyone is really nice! All the time! And there’s a lot of hugging! And emotional honesty! I guess I’m saying I didn’t really get the impression from this movie that the director was trying to get across, lol. Although I enjoyed the parts set in Denmark very much, regardless.


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