Parlor Discourse on Susanne Bier’s After the Wedding.

This Discourse, our first, bears a heavier weight for defining what this is all about than those that will follow.  So a reminder that this is not a review.  From the get go I scout for and write only on stories that illuminate in some way the directional shift I perceive in the narrative swirl around us.

Sidse Babett Knudsen & Mads Mikkelsen in After The Wedding

Sidse Babett Knudsen & Mads Mikkelsen in After The Wedding

So as for the film After the Wedding.  It took a bit of running in circles but I think I’ve uncovered the light it casts on our exploration.  It is an evolution of the old familiar tale of the Hunter, the one who takes life in order to perpetuate his own.  And it offers a way for the Hunter himself to transform into something perhaps more helpful for all of us today.  Let me know if you think I’m on the right track.

Sincerely, your Lookout.  

Susanne Bier’s story is built on two men, both hunters of a sort, from opposite ends of the earth, both on a journey of family and paternity.  It begins in India with Jacob Pederson, a man with a mission, literally, for orphans.  They are his family and his fatherly role is to provide for them.  Jacob tells the boys that the West where he comes from is dirty. But the story’s barely begun before Jacob must travel back to those origins on a hunt for money.  Turns out, he’s willing to get his hands dirty in order to save his family of lost boys, to give them hope for a future.

To Copenhagen where, turns out, Jacob’s been flushed out by Jorgen Hansson, also a man with a mission and a family whose future, too, contrary to appearances, is at risk.  With the honed skills for self perpetuation of any successful capitalist, Jorgen ensnares Jacob beyond their roles of the man with the money and the man who needs it.  But just as Jorgen sets his traps, cracks appear in his omnipotence.  He swallows pills under the gaze of wall-mounted animal heads, his hunter talismans.  It begs the question – what kind of hunt is Jorgen really gearing for?  To what end?

When we walk with Jacob into a woman’s world of wedding preparation for Jorgen’s daughter, Anna, Jacob’s ever tracking eyes meet those of Anna’s mother and Jorgen’s wife, Helene.  In the look between them a once-upon-a-time sparks into our story.  Now we know why Jacob’s been lured here.  He and Helene share a past.  We watch Jorgen watch this tense re-union.  It dawns that maybe Jorgen is preparing for the transfer of his life, banked as love in his wife and daughter, into the care of another man.  And he will take Jacob’s life, rerouting it for his own purposes without thought for the future of Jacob’s waiting brood, because sustaining his own seed is the Hunter’s primal drive.

Something inside me balks at Jorgen’s charting the lives of others from beyond his grave.  His self so rooted in his Hunter Being, in his refusal to be anything other, that even as his life ebbs he claims the right to take another father’s life into service of his overriding prerogative as provider for his wife and daughter.  This mix of refusal and claim makes Jorgen a most dangerous force.  One to keep at least one eye on at all times.

Now comes the suspicionJacob paces his cage disguised as an upscale hotel room provided, of course, by Jorgen, trying to stay detached long enough to get away with the bait money.  But already Jacob’s changing course, morphing in response to the human landscape he finds himself in.  He tracks back to confront Helene.  Is Anna his daughter?  The instant heat flaring up between them illuminates the love they abandoned so long ago.  Helene, “I thought you’d come after.”  Jacob, “I thought you’d come back.”  Ah men…

And with this spill of truth emotions now run loose in Bier’s story.  Risky, because emotions can hurt.  So much we bury them down deep.  Or embalm them into fantasy.  Anything but let them amble, uncontained.  But this is the path of change, and Jacob and Helene’s spill leads us to Anna, the embodiment of their youthful passion.  Anna speaks for daughters everywhere saying to Jacob, “Now you know I exist.”  This pulls the “natural” father, Jacob, toward prioritizing his own seed over his adopted family and it seemingly allies him with Jorgen’s mission.  So Jorgen draws Jacob closer, makes a show of losing control in Jacob’s presence.  When Jorgen finally says out loud that he is dying, it is to Jacob; the women need not be informed, their custody will be transferred among men.

When Helene puts two and two together to realize Jorgen is dying, he explodes in anger.  This is not her concern; it’s being handled.  Unable to allow his wife her pain, he causes her more.  When his daughter confronts him he says, “I didn’t want you to see me as a dead man before I was.”  It’s about his legacy.  This is how the Hunter treats those he loves when he’s trapped and wounded. They can not be party to his demise.  By ensnaring Jacob to step into his paternity Jorgen the provider will endure.  This is how he denies death.  As much as he believes he is doing the right thing, Jorgen’s notion of duty excludes love.

This brings back forward the men’s difference in being.  Jacob alters path, allowing even the possible surrender of his own mission as his heart opens to feelings now unearthed.  Jacob makes no claim on the power of taking life.  He hunts for what sustains life, yes, but to nourish rather than perpetuate himself.  A different kind of hunter all together.

And then Bier strikes the smallest match on a possible making of the old tale Hunter new.  True to his nature, Jorgen’s is a public death.  At a banquet they all toast the future without him.  But at the very end, in private, Jorgen rages against death and here he lets Helene comfort him, truly an act of love.  Here, Bier’s tale traverses with both feet an other conception of what we need from one another in this time, now.

If you’re inclined to go deeper and willing to explore what was at least for me darker emotional territory, watch Bier’s 2004 film Brodre.  This is a rewarding but very tough traverse that asks if a man can become so damaged as to be toxic, beyond healing.  And then there’s the issue that Hollywood felt the need to produce a remake of the film, Brothers, 2009, director Jim Sheridan, written by David Benioff.   And we must ask why?


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    • Caryn Cline
    • May 7th, 2010

    I was disappointed in this film. The performances were strong, as were the characters, but I just didn’t care about the problems of these rich people. I thought that the story tried hard to equate Jacob’s concerns about the orphanage with the problems of Jorgen’s family and their future after he dies. I had a hard time being convinced that Jacob needed to learn lessons about caring from Jorgen. The true and proper recipients of his care, the film seems to say, are Helene and Anna, who both seem spoiled and uninteresting to me. Jacob may be “turned around” by the revelation that Anna is his daughter, but for Jacob, I would suggest, this is a self-centered narcissism rather than real caring. The final scene, in which Jacob’s offer to take his favorite orphan back to Denmark with him is rejected by the child, indicated that all may not be well for Jacob in his new life with his ready made family.

    • Ilona Rossman Ho
    • May 19th, 2010

    I enjoyed this film which was beautifully shot. I agree with the Lookout that this is a tale of the Hunter, however I think that although Jorgen is the hunter he is also in his own cage of masculinity and the role of being a Man. We first meet him as the doting father reading to his sons. But we quickly see that he is the master of his house and his wife has a traditional role. He can’t share his illness with her because this would make him seem weak. He is consistantly shown in charge and in control until the final scene where he is transformed into a groveling, tearful, frightened person. It’s interesting that although his wife finally comforts him at first she seems appalled at his despair – showing her expectation that he remain in his role of manliness. The only hole in the story I saw was the pull for Jacob to return to India – I thought he got off way to easy in missing his “other child’s” birthday in India, it seemed like there was more story there that maybe was edited out…

    • I agree Ilona, there’s more story, perhaps another entire story, in the orphanage with Jacob’s “other children,” a concern brought up as well by Caryn in her comment above. There’s a danger in utilizing any “otherworld,” in this case the backdrop of India and its bundle of associations, as a device more for Jacob’s character definition than intrinsic to the story’s meaning, centralized here in the West, with us. A bit of a gloss over, and yes, a weakness.

      This is primarily a tale of the two men, with Helene and Anna utilized, as Vanessa says below, to support, be the reason for action both literal and emotional between the men. And, again as Caryn says above, the women come off rather spoiled. An exploration of this spoilage could have been another interesting story, the resources it takes to support this lavishness and the corresponding deficit it must make in the otherworld which has so little. But of course Bier’s use is meant to point to that without an outright exploration except as it has to do with setting up Jacob as we enter the story as a man with intention to do good in a direct way in the world.

    • Vanessa
    • May 30th, 2010

    I also enjoyed this film & agree that the cinematography was beautiful. I’m interested in the character of Helene, who seemed to be there almost exclusively to support Jorgen & Anna. The film was really about their transformations & she came across as more of a flat & unsympathetic character whose motives, feelings & actions changed only in response to the actions put into effect by Jorgen & played out by Jacob. She was more of a puppet on Jorgen’s strongs while Anna’s reaction seemed more authentic & engaged.

    I found myself getting angry at Jorgen for having the gall to even suggest that another person should leave their life to take his over as well as for doing it in secret behind his wife’s back, assuming that she needed a man & if it couldn’t be Jorgen than surely her lover of 20 years past would do. After all, Jacob was a stranger to Helene when they reunited & obviously a different person than he had been when they’d known each other. (Although perhaps that is a good thing since the few words they both said about their previous relationship spoke to a lot of unhappiness)

    Overall I was fascinated with this movie & with figuring out where it was going as it went along. Much thanks to the Lookout for suggesting it & for the additional suggestion of Brodre. I’m looking forward to next month’s suggestion!

    • Vanessa, I’m so glad you made the statement “I found myself getting angry at Jorgen for having the gall…” because this is precisely the type of intense internal trigger I try to track when I’m engaged in a story. I’ve found anger, or discomfort, while not emotions I think I consciously persue (as say Rush Limbaugh actively persues and trades and makes money on anger) still I respect the flash of it in me, or the growing dark rumble of it as a signpost, a signal that I should pay attention, stop and take a beat to mull. Often this response marks a place of opening to what the storyteller has to show me and where I, if it’s an honest exploration and I’m in a place to receive, stand to get that preciousness – a little bit of narrative delivered understanding. Yes.

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