Eurocentralism and Moral Issues in the Work of Susanne Bier

Eurocentralism and Moral Issues in the Work of Susanne Bier

After watching three of the Scandinavian movies of danish director Susanne Bier I only can see them as a thematic trilogy and analyse them as such. She created the stories and Anders Thomas Jensen wrote the scripts. All the feature protagonists are European white men that at some point are displaced from their place of origin, dealing with the horrors of the unknown. In Brothers(Brødre/2004) he is a soldier in Afghanistan; in After the Wedding (Efter brylluppet/ 2008), he is a teacher of orphaned children in India; and In a Better World (Hævnen/ 2010), a physician in Africa. The “other”is always perceived as a source of despair and misery: they are implacable Muslim soldiers, hungry and helpless little children or poor people, without no prospects, decimated by local warlords. Everything is very Eurocentric in perspective, until those character are brought back home, causing different results and conflicts. 

Another aspect in common between the films is the presence of many moral issues, worked with heavy hands. They sometimes even flirt openly with the melodrama.

In a Better World

In Brothers, the protagonist must decide whether or not to kill a fellow prisoner to be able to return home and see his family. He made the choice and he must accept it’s consequences. There is also a certain irony in considering that a soldier is a hero and an ex-convict be a pariah albeit the second never killed a person and the first was trained to do so. Between the three, this is the movie in which a female character is more prominent: the desires and thoughts of the soldier’s wife are always present.

In a Better World brings a similar question about life and death, but with more layers: when a doctor receives as patient warlord responsible for hundreds of deaths with serious but non-fatal injury, should he treat him, leave him on his own or simply kill him (directly or indirectly)? This is probably the hardest question Bier asks in the three movies. But she follows the idea, linking violence perpetrated by warlords to all the little everyday violences. Thus, a child with dangerous tendencies would  be a psychopath or a consequence of the sick society and even family that surrounds it?

Moving away from the violence thematic, After the Wedding is more dramatic  and stagey than the other films. It also has a sense of small everyday problems. The protagonist, returning to Europe, finds unanswered issues of the past and need to put  into perspective what is more important: the Indian children he helps or his own personal problems. It can sound egotistical, but put ourselves as priority in life in relation to those around us is not what we do all the time? Converting the story to a global scale just make the spectator aware of this selfishness. At the same time he needs to see the reflections of the actions he had committed in the past  on the present, as he watches other people get hurt. 

The films are directed with mastery and their photography, especially of In a Better World, is gorgeous. Susanne Bier does not seem like a subtlety. But the way she puts the intensity in her movies translates as top quality work. Undoubtedly she is a director who is expected great films to come.

Isabel Wittmann

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