Synopsis: Andreas arrives in a strange city with no memory of how he got there. He is presented with a job, an apartment – even a wife. But before long, Andreas notices that something is wrong. Andreas makes an attempt to escape the city, but he discovers there’s no way out. Andreas meets Hugo, who has found a crack in a wall in his cellar. Beautiful music streams out from the crack, but from where?
eyelights: the concept. the lead. the slightly “off” quality of this alternate reality.
eyesores: the grey emotional palette.
For approximately a year now, I’ve been told by friends that I should absolutely see ‘ Den brysomme mannen’. I already had a copy, but for various reasons I hadn’t gotten around to it. It was on my radar, though: it seemed like exactly the kind of thing I would enjoy. Still, even with a little prodding from my peeps, it took me forever.
I was feeling really out of it a couple of weeks ago, kind of burnt out from all the work and incessant activities, so I decided to give it a whirl. I figured that if anything could snap me out of my stupor, it would be a quirky Norwegian film with a wry sense of humour. My favourites movies tend to be quirky (case-in-point: ‘Grosse Pointe Blank‘ or ‘Being There‘), so I figured that it would be a safe bet.
Unfortunately, my timing may have been off.
While the film is certainly quite unusual, in an amusingly offbeat fashion, and I got a lot of chuckles out of it, it has a depressive neutrality to it that I hadn’t anticipated – and which wasn’t exactly suitable for lifting my spirits. If anything, it dulled the enjoyment that I was deriving from it, surrounding each moment of delight with bleakness.
‘Den brysomme mannen’ is about a man who commits suicide and wakes up in an alternate reality, one where a whole existence is handed to him on a plate, with no efforts or concerns to be had. The problem is that nothing has any flavour there, whether it be emotionally or experientially – all the highs and lows of life are muted.
The problem is that our protagonist, Andreas, is left unsatisfied by this lack of stimuli. Unlike the others in this soulless “utopia”, who don’t want to be troubled and thus go through their daily motions without a care in the world, he longs for more. Although he was unable to handle the intensity of his former life, he doesn’t want everything dialled down.
So he pushes boundaries, discovering that everything is joyless, attempts to escape the city, and tries to commit suicide again. But there is no escape from the dreariness. Even his romantic and sexual encounters are zestless, given his partners’ general lack of passion. It’s only in overhearing an escaping melody -the only music in this world- that his hope is renewed.
The humour of ”Den brysomme mannen’ comes through in the subtly absurd moments, such as the way that people relate to one another, the value that they place on their everyday activities, the generical blandness of everything, Andreas’ mild bewilderment and the contrasting qualities of this reality versus the world that we live in. It’s not a laugh riot, but it’s certainly quite amusing.
But what makes the picture truly fascinating is its seemingly allegorical side. I say seemingly, because the film never actually explains where Andreas is from, nor where he ends up. Was he on Earth, in our reality? Or was he in another reality similar to our own? And why was he transported to yet another similar one, but every experience severely toned down?
My first speculation was that he had left our reality and was in a sort of afterlife, perhaps a Limbo of sorts, after having committed suicide. Why this afterlife was so bland escaped me, seeing as we often imagine the afterlife as a paradise on earth. But it’s conceivable that this is in fact Limbo, not Heaven, and that this is the afterlife he got, due to Divine Providence.
Another speculation could be that this is all just an alien scenario, unrelated to our own understanding of reality, and that it’s not really supposed to make sense. Sometimes it’s fun for storytellers to just play around with reality (case-in-point: ‘Nothing’) for the sake of offering something out of the ordinary. David Lynch’s oeuvre hinges on it.
Another theory, proposed by The Horrible Dr. B (see our MBV James Bond reviews), is that Norway and other Scandinavian and countries tend to be conformist societies, that there’s a lot of peer-pressure to fit in. It is possible that ‘Den brysomme mannen’ is meant to be a commentary -if not a satire even- of this culture, on the unhappiness that it can breed.
One thing for sure is that suicide is a central theme. From the moment that Andreas takes his own life, we are then confronted by a new reality where suicides are commonplace – enough so that people don’t really bat an eye when it happens, and that there is even a crew dedicated to clean-ups and who cruise around the city, tending to the victims (who, in this reality, never die).
It leads one to wonder if this is a city filled with suicide victims, people who are unable to deal with the intensity of life, with their own internal turmoil, and who prefer this low intensity, low impact existence that has been provided for them. Andreas, for one, started off experiencing life in a freakishly heightened fashion – as evidence by the comparable subway scenes at the beginning and then later in the film.
But what were the filmmakers’ intentions? Were they discussing a plague on modern society, particularly in their homeland? Were they being satirical of modern life, in which we have everything one could desire but still can’t seem to find happiness? Were they taking a more theological approach? I wish I knew the answer: this is a film that teases the mind without satisfying it. At least, at first glance.
Because, if there’s anything true about ‘Den brysomme mannen’, it’s that it deserves at least two viewings, if not more. Even if one understands it all the first time around, it’s worth seeing it anew with this perspective in mind. And it’s such a fascinating motion picture that it should be seen at least once in the company of others – it can be a grim film in some respects, but it compensates by fostering lively conversations.
The intellectually-minded should definitely bother to watch this “Bothersome Man”. It may be dystopic and it may be cryptic, but it’s nonetheless a stimulating journey that is worth undertaking.
Date of viewing: March 17, 2013