33. In a Better World (2011)

From African refugee camp to home

Directed by: Susanne Bier
Written by: Anders Thomas Jensen
Starring: Mikael Persbrandt, Trine Dyrholm and Ulrich Thomsen

We all suffer in different ways. Children, mother and father, husband and wife, a whole country – each have their own perspectives, trials and tribulations, past pain and deep-seated emotional burdens. Heavy stuff, am I right?

Well, Susanne Bier’s In a Better World doesn’t get much lighter than that. The subject matter of this Golden Globe winner (for Best Foreign Language Film) is heavy, serious and somewhat depressing as the lives of two young boys, Christian and Elias, their parents, and the life-changing decisions they all make reflect on how turbulent emotions can lead to destructive results.

Hard to tell whether problems at home or work are more taxing...

As Elias’ father, Anton, travels from his home in Denmark to his work at an African refugee camp, the conflicts happening in the two worlds are contrasted beautifully through constantly shifting and moving natural phenomenon, but also connected in ideas of what is ethical, what is just and fair in life. As each character is fighting their own battle – whether that be the loss of a loved one, trying to rebuild a relationship or simply trying to hold onto a friend – the emotionally charged and powerfully confronting performances of In a Better World deliver ideas of retribution and inner conflict in ways that are thought-provoking and deeply effective to the audience’s own emotional experience. Let’s just say, twelve year old boys facing the adult world of death, violence and separation, make for great drama.

If reading this makes you feel emotionally exhausted, wait till you see the movie. While the film includes visually striking images of African landscapes and a heart-stopping climax, In a Better World has your forehead wrinkled with anxiety for the entirety of its runtime. As good as this film is at making you feel vulnerable, its poetic sadness and focus on complex human emotions is overwhelming, leaving no time for us to digest some of the more intensely dramatic scenes and forcing us to keep up with troubling matter after troubling matter. After all, a little variation in tragic tales can make them a little less stressful, and sometimes, even more resonant.


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