Morning, all! I enjoyed writing the last review so much that I decided to tell you about another of my favorite films.
Incidentally, I’d always thought that I ‘hated’ writing reviews but the truth is it’s not so much hate as it is plain laziness. Writing them is difficult, and I like my things easy. Trying to distill entire plots down to a series of discrete points, especially avoiding spoilers, is double-yikes. I admire people who can spin out reviews like so much cotton candy, because for me it’s more like a long afternoon of old-fashioned taffy-pulling. With one arm. In fact, writing in general–when there’s something important to convey, anyway–tends to be like that. I remember hearing the brilliantly gifted Roald Dahl say once that it took him months to complete even one short story because he had to get it just right, and that he comprehensively loathed the process. I kind of get that.
God, I love crotchety old writers. Ray Bradbury was another one, rest his soul. If you haven’t read Dandelion Wine or The Martian Chronicles or The October Country or Something Wicked This Way Comes, please stop reading this tripe and do it right away.
You’re back? Good. On to the review.
As a sucker for Allting Scandinavian (I even have my email account set to Swedish) and a grateful subscriber to Netflix, I’ve watched lots of movies from Sweden, Norway, Iceland, and Denmark (and a couple from Finland). Adam’s Apples, a dark comedy out of Denmark, was written and directed by the talented and prolific Anders Thomas Jensen, and features a few of the country’s usual ensemble of brightest stars, including Ulrich Thomsen, Mads Mikkelsen, and Paprika Steen.
Adam (Ulrich Thomsen) is a newly-paroled convict sent to Ivan (Mads Mikkelsen), a pastor who runs a rehabilitation center out of his church. Adam is also an unrepentant neo-Nazi gang leader, who, even as the bus drops him off, calmly takes out his nail clippers to scratch the side of it as it pulls away. He cares about nothing and nobody, and when Ivan relays that the report about him claims “he is evil,” he doesn’t disagree.
Ivan, on the other hand, is his antithesis–the anti-Adam, deliberately choosing to see only good in everything and everybody, and most especially when confronted with apparent, ugly truth. His common response to anything he doesn’t want to hear is “That’s just plain rude–we’ll discuss it later” and his obtuseness makes up most of the comedy because it’s just so ridiculous. For example, as he’s reading the aforementioned report to Adam, on their first meeting, he tells him in all earnestness, “It says here you’re a neo-Nazi. It’s not the first thing that springs to mind by looking at you.”
(Yeeah, Mama’s little angel, if your mama’s Eva Braun. And I realize there’s something deeply wrong with me that I find him incredibly attractive. Big angry men… remember last post? This is, apparently, the second in my Big Angry Men series.)
As they walk into the bucolic, light-dappled churchyard, they approach a gorgeous apple tree, replete with apples and shimmering green leaves. Ivan tells him that this tree has always borne delicious fruit and is his pride and joy; he cuts an apple from a branch, hands it to Adam, and tells him not to eat it as it’s not yet ripe… thus handing us the theme of the story. Adam is nowhere near ripe himself, but as all the best stories go, and it’s no spoiler to say, you know by the end of it he will be.
Inside the church, when Adam asks what he’s required to do as part of the work program, Ivan tells him to set his own goal, and Adam’s eye lights on the green apple sitting on Ivan’s desk. “I want to bake a pie,” he says derisively. “An apple pie, out of our apples?” Ivan replies, astonished. Adam settles back in his chair and sneers. “Ja, en aebletaerte.” Ivan enthusiastically agrees, and gives Adam the task of tending the tree until the apples are ripe and he can use them to bake a pie.
Adam is genuinely flummoxed by Ivan; he cannot understand, nor accept, his unrelenting Utopian outlook; even when he learns its underlying cause from the local doctor, the information only reinforces his contempt. Both characters are complex: the juxtaposition of Adam’s almost zen-like detachment with his simmering, underlying rage is brilliantly executed by Thomsen, and with very little dialogue. His very stance tells you who he is and what he’s about. Ivan’s inane optimism, coupled with small dark explosions of pious redirection and denial, are played equally well by Mikkelsen, and this is what makes their interaction such a pleasure to watch.
As the story progresses, we see Adam’s impatience with Ivan grow by degrees until it boils over to a brutal beating in cold, buttoned-down fury–an event which, afterwards, is blithely disregarded by Ivan as if it never happened. So it’s with mounting frustration that Adam makes it his quiet and determined mission to destroy Ivan’s faith…. and in doing so unwittingly inches closer to finding his own.
The comedy is very black: grim, occasionally graphic, and extremely funny. In addition to Ivan, Adam is also forced to interact with the other inmates of the center–Gunnar (Nicolas Bro), an overweight, alcoholic, kleptomaniac rapist; Khalid (Ali Kazim), a Pakistani ex-pat imprisoned for armed robbery, whose mangled Danish is funny even in English subtitles; Sarah (Paprika Steen), a bedraggled, single pregnant woman who has wandered in seeking pastorly advice, a decision she ends up bitterly regretting; and on a couple of memorable occasions, members of his old neo-Nazi gang, who’ve come to check up on him.
I love the comedy part of it, but it’s the redemption part that steals my heart, as well as the idea that two souls, seemingly shoved into each other at random, can alter the very fabric of each other’s being. I know a movie has succeeded when I bawl my eyes out at the end. Love to you this first day of summer! xo
*Throughout the movie, whenever the two men are in the car together, Ivan reaches over to switch on the Bee Gees song, “How Deep Is Your Love?” That’s a question well answered.