Susanne Bier’s 2010 Oscar-winner for the Best Foreign Language film, In a Better World, is a fascinating study of the dark side of human nature. The original Danish title Hævnen, meaning ‘Revenge’, aptly encapsulates the main concern of the film. Bier challenges her audience with difficult moral dilemmas, shows how hard it is to turn the other cheek, and how temptation to play by good old ‘an eye for an eye’ can lead to disaster.
Yes, there are some references to Christianity, and some viewers may find In a Better World a little too pointedly moralising. However, the allusions are not obvious or pretentious but subtle and tasteful, and the moral message is not too invasive and is of concern to a wide audience, regardless of religious views.
In a Better World oscillates between the stories of two broken families in Denmark. Elias is a calm, quiet boy living with his busy mother and occasionally with his father and idol who works as a doctor in an undefined African state. After his mother dies of cancer, Christian moves from London with his father. Upon witnessing Elias being bullied at school, Christian stands up for the boy. Elias finds a friend, while mysterious and seemingly emotionless Christian finds consolation to his grief in seeking vengeance on the school bully. The troubled boy does not stop. He becomes increasingly cold-hearted and radical in his actions, which leads to a violent climax. Elias sheepishly follows his friend throughout his evil journey and its tragic outcome.
Sequences weaved through out the film showing Elias’ father, Anton, working in Africa, offer an interesting parallel to the main story. Anton helps villagers, most of whom are badly injured women, after the attack of a gang guru terrorising the area. When the terrorist himself comes asking for help, Anton struggles to find the strength to help the villain. The doctor starts to question what has always been obviously righteous to him.
Even though throughout the film, the audience is faced with scenes heavy in emotion, as well as some disturbing and violent images, In a Better World shows that there is forgiveness in people and does not condemn humanity. The Danish drama offers great performances, a captivating story, and above all an interesting insight into human nature.
Kosma Lechowicz is a Screen Lounge Assistant at Phoenix Square. He is in his final year of Film Studies and English at De Montfort University. Apart from films and books, his interests include music and video art.