Friday, September 5, 2008

EVIL (Mikael Håfström, 2003, Sweden) Do philosophical ideals of nature versus nurture have merit in the real world, where cruelty and sadism are the currency of success? The film does not concern vague subjective ideals concerning good and evil: this is a film about power and control…the key elements of all violence. Erik is as much a victim of domestic violence as his mother; his stepfather beats him for any perceived wrongdoing, the strap a symbol of the Fascist Order. This tyrannical husband holds Erik’s mother powerless and her only escape is music; a sympathetic and harmonious melody that softens the emotional blows and helps bury her guilt. And it’s to Erik’s credit that he holds the stepfather accountable and refuses to judge his mother whose bond as victim they both share. Out of this environment Erik has grown into quite a violent character himself; expelled from many schools, he is given one more chance for a decent education. Most of all, he doesn’t want to let his mother down. Håfström’s film is part IF and COOL HAND LUKE, with Erik fighting against his very nature and refusing to let authority destroy him by becoming a sadistic clone: he stands firmly against all odds as an individual. He passively protests all attempts to humiliate him, to dehumanize him and make him a slave to injustice and conformity. When the attacks are then directed against his friend, only then must he physically fight back; he must utilize their own rigid rules against them or risk being expelled. Though the ending is a contrived Legal Ex Machina, and the final freeze frame is awful, the moral ambiguity is open for viewer interpretation: we become a participant in the film. Passive resistance is a grand principle, one that someday the human race may achieve in totality: until then, there is a time to fight back and still keep our humanity, to retain our integrity, or we become victims to those in absolute power. (B)

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