Trollhunter: Transnationalism Through the Senses
Questions of national identity in cinema continue to remain at the forefront of film theory. The ramifications of globalization and the technological renaissance of the last few decades have helped not only to redefine the concept of nation, but question the very nature of a singular national identity itself. As a consequence, the Nordic national cinemas and their place within a global context are subject to an ever-shifting exchange.The intersection between Nordic national cinema and its global projection brings us to one of Scandinavia’s most recent and successful offerings; André Øvredal’s commercially lucrativeTrolljegeren/Trollhunter (2010). Trollhunter neatly epitomises the juncture where these debates conflate. The film also helps to delineate the concept of transnationalism; a notion that characterizes the movement beyond the constraints of a unitary nation-state. Consolidating themes, techniques and characterizations, Trollhunter negotiates the theoretical framing of the national and the transnational in a bid to further understand their impact on cinema today.
When cinema itself is read as a social text, it can reflect the specific period in which it was made, acting as an insightful mode of national self-portraiture. In this sense it can behave as a metaphorical postcard from the past, documenting public anxiety, perpetuate stereotypes, record social change as well as attempts to subvert it. Cinema is always a product of its history and an understanding of its shaping can be traced back to the fabric of the society in which it was created. The historical context of Trollhunter in relation to its national identity forms the cornerstone of this debate. Contemporary Nordic cinema, chronicled from the 1990s onwards, offers us a shift in the dynamics of cinematic production, where the use of transnationalism as a viable term began to take root. This is partly thought to be linked with the encroaching success of Hollywood, another consequence of which was a supposed reconstitution of national cinema in a bid to differentiate itself from the imperialism of its Hollywood contenders. These periods of both redefinition and reinvigoration, however, raise further questions as to how the Nordic national cinemas have been and continue to be defined. From an external perspective, particularly an Anglophone one, the Nordic nations remain nationally indistinct, especially in terms of cinematic output.
Trollhunter tells the story of three young filmmakers, Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud), Johanna (Johanna Mørck) and Kalle (Tomas Alf Larsen), who unearth the existence of trolls living clandestine within the Norwegian countryside. Their discovery is prompted by a disgruntled government employee, the idiosyncratic Hans (Otto Jespersen) whose job consists of concealing the troll population from the public at the behest of the Norwegian government. One of the most important facets of Trollhunter, relative to the aforementioned transnationalism theory, is underscored through the way in which it is filmed. The function of the found footage technique employed by Øverdal transcends the artifice of the Hollywood genre convention. Instead, it becomes our viewfinder throughout, having Thomas, Johanna and Kalle function as our literal and figurative eyes, ears and interpreter, through which the mythology of Norwegian folklore is revived for the modern age. It is as if the film works on several levels simultaneously, appearing to address the Norwegian consciousness through the inclusion of national folklore in tandem with an internationally recognized mode of production that engenders the spectators perspective by hijacking their sensory experience. While the film explores the interplay between fantasy and reality; simultaneously it provokes numerous national geopolitical and bureaucratic considerations. While these facets appear to target the Norwegian nation, Trollhunter’s effective blend of the internationally recognizable found footage convention behaves as our sensory introduction to such subjects, as opposed to a national one.Trollhunter’s themes illustrate the destructive power of nature but also the destructive hand wielded by man, themes that, whilst foregrounded through the backdrop of the Norwegian nation, ultimately transcend the boundaries of any one homeland. This in itself adopts a principal significance expressly in today’s unfixed, globalized world.
In anticipation of counter-arguments that challenge Trollhunter as a transnational film, it would be important not to neglect the subtly of some of the cultural references resonating in the background. What compounds the idea of Trollhunter as a transnational film are the politicized themes potentially rendered invisible when disembodied from a Norwegian context. These themes perhaps aim to stimulate the national consciousness as opposed to an international one, particularly the film nuanced characterizations and audience appeal. The trolls, however, form the base of Trollhunter’s ostensible national niche. The role of Scandinavia’s rich literary heritage and its influence on cinema are indisputable, having helped shape the Nordic countries global cinematic hallmarks. Trollhunter frames several archetypical scenes from Norwegian fairy tales including Three Billy Goats Gruff. The diverse spectrum of troll species the film encompasses reflects these literary sentiments directly. Other specific Norwegian cultural references include the use of nationally renowned comedians like Otto Jespersen and Robert Stoltenberg, the latter playing a Polish bear poacher, a satirized intertextual reference to Norway’s dependence on Polish labour, especially in relation to tackling unwanted jobs. There is also a subtle but significant microcosm of the main narrative at work. The conflict between farmers and their limited rights to exterminate predators on their land as a result of restrictive Norwegian wildlife conservation laws mirror Hans and his conflicted battles between man and beast. These sentimentalities behave as Trollhunter’s analogy, mimicking the ongoing war of attrition between people and governments, between politics and nature.
Aside from the explicit references to Norwegian folklore facilitated through the varying species of trolls, there are also layers of Norwegian artistic and cultural references perhaps less visible to a transnational audience. Norwegian artist Theodor Kittlesen’s painting Soria Moria Castle is referenced directly in the film. Kittlesen, who was primarily famed for his depiction of trolls and Norwegian fairy tales, was a key source of inspiration for the trolls’ aesthetic design. The close connections between Norwegian nature and notions of identity are certainly refreshed and elevated through showcasing the picturesque vistas of the Norwegian countryside.Trollhunter has been translated as an allegory for a shifting Norwegian national identity in relation to particular ‘national’ subject matters. In this sense, there is perhaps a paradox underscored when a ‘national’ film seeks a global audience. In doing so it perhaps loses a sentiment of the ‘national’. The use of the now residual postmodern found footage convention interjects as the ultimate transnational indicator, where the perspective invites us, as the audience, to experience a more personal sensory interaction. The subject themes, while they appear to bear a national weight, could ultimately be translated globally. This is the reason why Øverdal’s found footage convention is so effective; it is instantly identifiable and therefore significant on a transnational scale, helping to bring these themes to a global audience. Norway functions as a vessel through which the consequences and collisions between man, beast, nature and globalization can be played out.
Trollhunter imparts a tangible shape to the abstractions of the national and transnational concepts through its mediation between Norwegian folklore, environmental annihilation and corrupted state bureaucracy. Given the prevalent themes of destruction, particularly natural destruction, Trollhunterfunctions as an ecological parable, whereby Hans, acting as the self-reflexive face of mankind, contemplates ruefully his destructive relationship with nature. This notion of governmental collusion in tandem with the films stylized subjective point-of-view, Trollhunter transcends the borders of a singular nation state, engendering a subject matter intended to mobilize a global audience.
By Kate Moffat
Kate is currently a postgraduate Film student at Bangor University in North Wales. Her research interests include globalization and national identity in Nordic cinema.
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