Friday, April 8, 2011


In a Better World (Hævnen)

In a Better World Are we human beings hard-wired with the instinct of using violence to revenge? Probably so, since human beings are also animals after all. However, civilization and humanity set us apart from other animals on this planet, in theory at least. Unfortunately, take a look around the world today, that theory needs a serious proof. That seems to be what the title implies in Danish director Susanne Bier's Oscar-winning and Golden Globe-winning film "In a Better World" (Hævnen | Denmark 2010 | in Danish/Swedish/English | 113 min.).

The film opens in a dusty African refugee camp, where Danish doctor Anton (Mikael Persbrandt) provide humanitarian aids to local patients due to diseases and war violence. Back home, his shy 10-year-old son Elias (Markus Rygaard) is bullied at school constantly, until he becomes a friend of a newly arrived Swedish boy Christian (William Jøhnk Nielsen). Christian is devastated by his mom's recent death to cancer. He finds a perfect outlet for his repressed anger—he stands up to the bullies and takes the vengeance matter into his own hands. It seems working.

Taking a break from the horrific violence in Africa, Anton comes back home for a visit, but he is bullied himself one day by an auto-worker, witnessed by Elias and Christian. He tries to set an example for the children to take a higher moral ground. That does not seem working at all. The kids take on their own course that has been vindicated by their schoolyard experiences.

Markus Rygaard and William Jøhnk Nielsen in IN A BETTER WORLD

Director Susanne Bier is no stranger for bringing provocative and difficult social dilemmas into her story telling, as in her brilliant "Brothers" (Brødre | Denmark/UK/Sweden/Norway 2004 | in Danish | 117 min.). "In a Better World" is no exception.

The film is remarkably ambitious trying to connect the two very different parts of the world, a middle class European town and a war damaged African desert, to answer a sophisticated philosophical question about society and humanity in general. Despite the admirable effort, the result is not as satisfying. We might be intrigued by the film, but not inspired by it.

Let's go back to the original question after watching the film—can we resolve conflicts without using violence? Apparently, not on this planet. In a better world, maybe.

"In a Better World," a Sony Pictures Classics release, opens on Friday, April 8, 2011 at Bay Area theaters.

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