Sunday, December 07, 2008

Movie Review: The Bothersome Man (Den Brysomme mannen)

Den Brysomme mannen Go to IMDb page

Information ©

I have stumbled on a brilliantly surreal Norwegian movie which, from a Christian perspective, might be seen as a critique of bland views of eternal heaven or, for the secular audience, a dystopian view of modern society.

The Bothersome Man (2006) begins with Andreas (Trond Fausa Aurvaag) standing on a train platform where he is aware of a couple engaged in gross mechanical, emotionless kissing. Andreas then jumps in front of an oncoming train. We are then transported back to the time he arrives alone, and without memory as to how he got there, at a desolate outpost. He is "welcomed" by a man in a black car who transports him to a city where everything is perfect. There is no pain, no death, relationships are conflict-free, and sex is mechanically free of any complications such as love. And there are no memories from the past to intrude in this idyllic life. Andreas is given a perfect job and a perfect house and lives with a perfect wife who makes no demands. Everything is just perfect ... or is it?

Andreas is ill-at-ease. Something is not right in this city. The food is tasteless, alcohol has no effect, there are no children bothering anyone and there are no elderly. Life is one endless round of going to work and coming home at night to an "idyllic" existence.

Then Andreas discovers a man living in a basement who has found a hole in the wall from which comes beautiful music and the sounds of children's laughter. In desperation, Andreas tries to tunnel through to the other side. But Andreas is a bothersome man to this society and they need to deal with him. He is disrupting their perfect existence.

The Bothersome Man (2006) is a superbly crafted dystopian vision. The director, Jens Lien, has produced a finely balanced, subtle story in which the performers provide wonderfully understated portrayals of the deadness of their perfect existence. Sound plays an essential role in painting the utopian vision. Dialogue is kept to a minimum (maybe that is some people's idea of perfect existence!) and the cinematography uses the imagery of vast land- and cityscapes to heighten Andreas sense of disconnection and loneliness. In addition, there are some "high points" of very black comedy as Andreas is hit multiple times by a train but cannot die.

The Bothersome Man can undoubtedly be "read" in different ways. For some, the movie represents the alleged (by some) contemporary nature of modern Norwegian society. Others see a general warning of contemporary society and its pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain. For me, I couldn't help thinking of some Christians' views of heaven. They seem so bland and boring I wonder why anyone would want to end up there. It seems to me that the Bible says very little about the reality of heaven. It affirms its existence. But the biblical descriptions often referred to by Christians are most certainly culture-bound at the time they were written. They are constructed around whatever utopia was for those people.

Whatever interpretation you place on The Bothersome Man it is a film that had me sitting and thinking as the credits rolled (an interesting thing happens as the first few credits roll — watch out for it and consider what it might mean). The ending of the movie is highly enigmatic. But the very best art should leave room for us to draw our own understandings. Lien has resisted the temptation to didactically explain the meaning of the narrative. Films like this offer wonderful opportunities for discussion. In that sense, this is a superb piece that truly bothers the intellect — Lien is a bothersome director! The Bothersome Man, is most definitely worth the bother of tracking down.

My Rating: ***** (out of 5)

Positive Review 'A few flaws but this is visually captivating and psychologically disturbing.' - David Parkinson/Empire Reviews Central

Negative Review 'There are several ways to take this bothersome trifle, none of which are at all resonant.' - Ed Gonzalez/Slant Magazine (warning: some coarse language)

Content Advice Sexual references; violence and gore; frightening/intense scences

AUS: MA15 USA: Not rated


  1. Purgatory. This has to be about purgatory.

    1. That's exactly what I was thinking through the whole movie.

  2. I just finished watching it a few minutes ago.
    I must say it was a very intriguing movie. It really had me thinking, so much so that I am online trying to find out more about the movie.

  3. I actually just watched this film for my Philosophy class and I must say it really had me thinking maybe a little too much. lol. I love the fact there's not too much dialogue. Sometimes one shouldn't say a damn thing.
    I have to write a paper on what I think the three realms represent; like the main world he ends up in, the world with the pstries, music, and kids, and where he ends up. I honestly think its about how even if we had this idealistic or generally accepted "perfect" world that there will always be someone who wants more. And because he wasn't satisfied with what he was given, he was given something less for being ungrateful.
    However, there are sooo many ways to interpret this film. I'd recomend it for sure.

  4. A Euro's view of some type of imagined perfect life. They don't get around much.

  5. I have to agree with my fellow anonymous above; a real mark of a film that moves me is that I immediately turn to the net to find out more! The most interesting film I have seen in all of 2010, both despite *and* because of its ambiguity.

  6. Having just watched the film, I think it is a condemnation of modern society: The architecture and interiors are stark, bland and unfriendly. The workers are disconnected from each other in their workplaces, refusing to talk about anything deep. No matter how nice the boss is, or how nice the cubicle is, the job is still stale and meaningless. Sex is connectionless and no children result. There are only adults having affairs, but nothing has a depth and resonance to it. The longing for the room with color, taste, music and children laughing, is a longing that our society feels, especially the advanced societies of northern Europe, which presage our own American society. Ever since industrialization 200 years ago society has been nostalgic for something of more substance and connection.
    I don't know what the inability to die symbolizes. I thought it was a Dantean hell perhaps. It occurs underground. The bus and the black car are the boat that Charon transports the souls across the river Styx.

  7. This movie is definitely about the afterlife. But it does not make much sense seen from a Christian perspective, as a critique of bland views of eternal heaven nor from a dystopian view of modern society.
    It only makes sense if viewed from a new-age perspective (one that involves ideas of the afterlife taken from Buddhism, Hindu Yoga and such philosophies).

    In Hindu Yoga philosophy it is believed that the soul has to stay in the astral plane a while until the purpose of that existence has lived itself out, and then a new incarnation becomes possible. And it is also believed that one becomes ready to incarnate again through "a desire to experience and grow", because in the astral, there is no growth. Existence there is static so to speak. So it is really a strong pull from within us that makes us WANT to incarnate and have all the experiences that a life in the flesh can give. And because of the universal "law of resonance", which basically means that we go where we belong and we attract or get attracted to the level of consciousness we have reached in life, then the afterlife can be a pretty dull place. Because it is in resonance with our acquired level of "being", or consciousness. If our level of consciousness is not very refined and spiritually mature, we will be satisfied with rather mediocre or superficially "shiny" things. Just like the place our protagonist ends up in. Its a place full of superficial people. People who live on the surface surrounded by neatness but who despise probing too deep for meaning. They don't want the nice and attractive surface disturbed for anything. Just like his girlfriend who immediately has a strong and almost automatic reaction against him dreaming and searching for the meaning behind his dream.
    And it is probably his former life and its superficial actions that led to him ending up in this place. Cause he did commit suicide. He did give up, when he could have looked deeper. He could have found other ways of dealing with his problems. Suicide is not looked upon as a wise solution to ones problems in life in any of the eastern philosophies!! On the contrary, it is seen as a result of a depressive and self-destructive state of mind that will plant the soul in similar depressive surroundings in the astral plane.

    The fact that the ones who want to escape with him are old people (you don't really see old people otherwise in the movie), fits again with the eastern philosophies, in the sense that they are the ones that have been in that realm the longest. They have had enough of that superficial and bland place. They also now long for more substance. That astral existence for them has been lived out. Has become a sort of hell one could say. Even though it is not hell for the ones who prefer the superficial life...not yet, but they will tire of it sooner or later. That astral place is just another waiting room. Some fall asleep there and others, like the protagonist, want to leave very quickly, all depending of their individual level of inner readiness, of spiritual maturity.

    1. Bravo to the between incarnations interpretation mentioned above. I think the author may have had this intention because the way Andreas was squeezing through the tunnel to get into the "real" room made me think of a baby emerging through the birth canal. I expected the scene to switch to the birth of a new baby Andreas at that moment.

  8. This is a critique of socialism.

    1. Bingo!

      It's a critique of secularism as well. Heaven is (one hopes) rich in texture, pulsing with color and light, with the richest and best aspects of life represented.

      Hell (or purgatory, if you will) is bland, grey, purposeless, continual, where all the best things in life, love, sex, children, enjoyment of life, are made shallow, ersatz, managed, and therefore faked.

      Heaven is the kitchen with color, smell, and children. Hell is where all the best things are stripped of meaning.

      It's interesting that the protagonist is punished with an even worse existence. This fits with the northern Euro worldview, where even the choice to be happy, alive, and engaged in life is denied you. Overstated perhaps, but it is where they are heading.

      That's my interpretation of the movie anyway.

  9. The film represents heaven. In a world where no one is jealous, no one has any reason to comment one way or another on the bothersome man. Nor can they fear him. Free of fear they cannot need him. Not needing him, they cannot provide any emotional surface for him. In reaching out and finding an absence of surface, the bothersome man feels like he is falling, floating, alone, as a result of his sinful need for emotional reassurance. The society is free from jealousy and judgement. In its absence, the bothersome man feels alone because of a desire to sin.

    In order to prove that man is judgmental, consider the opening scene. The bothersome man looks over and sees two individuals kissing. Whatever their actions, they are not harmful. If they are annoying, then they are a prompt to be god-like. The bothersome man does not enquire what they are doing. The viewer, lacking any knowledge about what they are doing, cannot make any kind of moral judgment about the action.

    Supposing heaven is a state that will be reached, then what language will the citizens of heaven speak? The story of the tower of Babel tells us that human language, and the inability to communicate, is a result of man's folly. What steps will citizens of heaven take to reverse that folly? One indication might be given during the dinner party, when one guest asks the bothersome man what color the wall tile is. She says azure, he says cyan, claiming that the manufacturer labels it cyan. She says she is sure it is azure. The idea of a color having a specific name is similar to the idea that there is one language. If heaven is to exist, then there will be one language, a language of absolutes, and not relative.

    Supposing heaven is a state that will exist, and no one in it will be able to die. How many times will a murderer stab you before he realizes that there is no reward? When he realizes that there is no reward, what then will he do? If he decides to be productive in society and you cannot die, does he deserve punishment? In a society where no one dies, there will be no murders.

    Interesting, isn't it, that the warm kitchen with the fresh baked cake is so suggestive of Mama, and Eve is the mother of us all.

    The Christians think about heaven and pray to go there, but not dying is meaningless. Everyone that has ever lived has died once, it may be that they are only going to die once. However, the soul is eternal. The soul that craves death could not stand the society in The Bothersome Man. Never being able to die is a condition which exposes the question, what now? Is life enough? If it is not, and death is not an option, then hell is a state of the soul, not a property of the location. Upon arrival in heaven, what will you do? The Bothersome Man is given a job as an accountant. Sound like most Christians do not want to get to heaven and have to do work.

    A perfect place, and the Bothersome man wants to leave. Any woman he asks out agrees. The dream of any man. He is injured and healed. He cannot die. Freedom from fear of personal injury. The kinds of things that would expand anyone's mind and the Bothersome Man would rather eat cake.

  10. I fell it was long in the telling, and the **spoiler alert** frozen ending was too cheeky: just vague enough to avoid commitment.