The brilliantly disturbing new film, “In a Better World,” is an examination concerned with revenge vs. forgiveness. In it, two young boys’ worlds are mirrored by their parents as they struggle with addressing brutality.
Ten-year-old Elias (Markus Rygaard) is severely bullied at school when Christian (William Johnk Nielsen) arrives and rallies to his defense. Christian demonstrates a proclivity toward vindictive violence, perhaps predicated by his mother’s recent death. That violence escalates when Christian persuades Elias to seek revenge for his father (who adamantly refuses to do so when slapped by a stranger), by bombing the stranger’s vehicle.
Elias’ father, Anton (Mikael Persbrandt), is a self-sacrificing doctor who periodically volunteers in Africa. A vicious warlord who enjoys betting on the sex of unborn children slices them out of the mother’s womb. Anton must treat the warlord’s victims and, eventually, the perpetrator. While Anton turns a blind eye to savagery, Elias, back in Denmark, does not.
There’s Anton’s estranged wife (Trine Dyrholm) and Christian’s father (Ulrich Thomsen) who also have issues, but the story focuses upon the nature of violence. Does it feel better to turn the other cheek and, in doing so, set a good example? Or is the immense satisfaction one derives from revengeful actions in any way acceptable?
These are the questions director Susanne Bier raises in this controversial film. An exercise in direction perfection, “In a Better World” took this year’s Oscar for Best Foreign Language film. Bier evokes impeccable performances from all of her immensely talented actors, especially the young boys. Her camera, exquisite and crisp, captures the intriguing beauty of Africa against the backdrop of the alluring Denmark.
“In a Better World” is a great tale, simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting. It compels one to ponder: Is mankind intrinsically cruel or kind? And would it be any better in a different world given human nature? Bier seems to think that there’s always hope.