• James Rutherford

'In a Better World': A Penetrating Dramatic Illustration of Complex Moral Ambiguity from Denmark


Movie poster for the 2010 film In a Better World

In a Better World (Hævnen) is a penetrating Danish drama ostensibly focused on a Swedish doctor named Anton (Mikael Persbrandt) whose life is split between his hometown in Denmark and a field hospital in a remote Sudanese refugee camp. Estranged from his wife Marianne (Trine Dyrholm) due to his own infidelities, Anton concentrates on his medical work with female victims of a vicious warlord who dominates the region.


While the story of Anton's time in Africa progresses, we tangentially follow the burgeoning friendship between his 12-year-old son Elias (Markus Rygaard) and a new boy at school named Christian (William Jøhnk Juels Nielsen). While Anton is ultimately forced into dramatic confrontation with the volatile militant commander, despite his pacifistic beliefs, Elias and Christian struggle against vicious schoolyard bullies back in Denmark. After a grievous confrontation with the boorish father of a local roughneck, the two boys hatch an illicit plan to execute a dangerous act of revenge.


Co-written and directed by Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier (Brothers, After the Wedding), In a Better World is a striking depiction of moral ambiguity and profound existential uncertainty. Bier elicits stunningly raw performances from her cast, with Persbrandt, Rygaard and Nielsen standing out in their deeply humanistic portrayals of conflicted souls. Major accolades to cinematographer Morten Søborg, as well, whose majestic camerawork delivers a spellbinding luster to this thoughtful and highly deserving winner of the 2010 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

 

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