“In A Better World” is a drama from Denmark & Sweden, and director Susanne Bier, that yearns for peace. The story begins by confusing us a little: it starts with middle-aged doctor going into an African camp to help. Then we see boy giving a eulogy, straining to be stoic. Then we see a boy being bullied by several peers. You don’t really know whose story this is – the boys’ or the men’s?
We see a lot of anger, tension and clenched fists, even when they’re just words. Basically this’s the story of angry boys and men, and how each of them deals with this, whether with softness or hardness.
This plays at Minneapolis’ Uptown Theater for a week on April 15th.
There are two boys and two fathers, each of them dealing with what manhood and strength mean to themselves. One teenager, Christian, (William Jøhnk Nielsen) strong and resolute on the surface, is still smarting from his mom’s death from cancer; he doesn’t know what to do with his confusing mix of feelings: agony, guilt and wrath.
The other boy, Elias, (Markus Rygaard) is the opposite; continually bullied in school, he has withdrawn and shed any sense of self-confidence. His dad, Anton, (Mikael Persbrandt) a doctor in Africa, isn’t around and is in the middle of separating from Elias’ mom. Elias, cowing in the face of obvious and imminent divorce, just wants his home life to be ok again.
At his new school, Christian, already vulnerable without his mom, who succumbed to cancer, overcompensates in the face of problems. Elias needs a friend, a source of strength – someone who’ll fill in as a protector, even if that poses that imposes a price.
Aside from the boys’ angst-ridden fights with their worlds and themselves, their dads have equally difficult problems. Dr. Anton has to deal with his meek, unsure son. But in Africa he contends with a monster whose men do things to women that’re best left to the imagination. And Christian’s dad starts to wonder, in a taciturn way, why his son’s this angry.
When the boys meet Christian is hit, while standing up for poor Elias, who was just struck himself by a bully and his followers. Christian underestimates his foe, and is rewarded with blood. Next time under the “cover” of a bathroom, he sucker punches the boy, this time using overwhelming force, a chunk of metal, while he’s on Elias again. He gets the drop on the little bastard – and an interview with the police. This makes us wonder how messed up Christian is, and how barbaric he’ll be.
In the abyss of Christian’s confused wrath, he resorts to a pipe bomb. The lives of mom and daughter joggers are caught in this. “In A Better World” reminds us of how some boys are taught to deal with stress, their own anger and with conflicts, and the kinds of men they might become.
The story’s quiet, letting the boys’ angst flare through words and pauses, without needing action scenes to show the tensions. This intense story is smart and interesting.