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