Published Apr 01, 2011Originally titled Haevnen (The Revenge) in its native Denmark, Susanne Bier's In a Better World continues her thematic stream of challenging, idealistic platitudes, stepping away from her trademark depictions of grief in an unflattering light to focus mainly on the necessity of deviation from a rigid ideologue in times of conflict.
Such high-minded social didactics and critiques aren't exactly groundbreaking for Bier, being a proponent of the Dogme 95 movement, which included other such misanthropes as Lars von Trier, Kristian Levring and Thomas Vinterberg. But she does make her point in a concise, yet profound, way that should challenge the beliefs of even the most myopic viewer.
Spanning from a poor African nation to Danish suburbia, this sharp behavioural allegory connects these locales through Anton (Mikael Persbrandt), a recently separated physician whose stance on conflict is to be the bigger man and walk away. He works in Africa, treating a rash of women whose infants have been cut out of their stomachs by a man making bets on their gender, when not trying to imbue his values on his conflicted son, Elias (Markus Rygaard), at home.
Being bullied at school, Elias responds passively, as per his father's doctrine, until a new boy aptly named Christian (William Johnk Nielsen) stands up for him, beating said bully with a bicycle pump, then holding a knife to his throat in the school washroom. Christian's belief is that people will keep pushing others around unless they're given a healthy dose of their medicine.
Herein lays the dilemma of the film, as neither ignoring hostility nor matching it provides an ideal outcome. As a viewer, it's certainly more satisfying to watch people respond vengefully to dickheads, but as this complex, compelling story points out, such actions often compound one another, forcing the weight of morality onto the shoulders of he who passes the judgment of punishment.
While such an obvious issue could easily wax pedagogical, nothing about this impressive, mature film feels medicinal. The characters each struggle with their perspectives on conflict in a logical, progressive way, each questioning the nature of hypocrisy, as anyone would given the events that unfold. Some of their decisions are necessarily shocking, but not entirely surprising, keeping this story vital from beginning to end.
Even if the final act cops out a bit by proffering a partial solution, this assured story of beliefs challenged proves important, relevant and thoroughly entertaining. (Mongrel Media)