Few directors have addressed the issues of the past decade as courageously as Denmark’s Susanne Bier. With the much celebrated Brothers, she raised troubling questions about the First World’s relationship with the Third. After the Wedding pursued this subject further, contrasting the conflicting demands of the domestic and the societal. Her latest, In a Better World, explores similar terrain while offering a devastating critique of masculinity.
In a war-torn African nation, physician Anton (Everlasting Moments’s Mikael Persbrandt) confronts a steady stream of tragedy and loss. Much of what he faces can be traced back to a vicious and sadistic local warlord. Back home in Denmark, his estranged wife, Marianne (Trine Dyrholm), is concerned about their eldest son, Elias, who is picked on mercilessly by the class bully, Sofus.
When new kid Christian arrives in class, he and Elias bond over a mutual hatred of Sofus. Surly and vicious since the loss of his mother, Christian is hardening into a rigid and ferocious manifestation of masculinity. His heartbroken father, Claus (Ulrich Thomsen), is finding it impossible to cope with Christian’s behaviour. The volatile situation is exacerbated by Anton’s return home and by an encounter between Anton, Elias, Christian and a violent, bullying mechanic (_Pusher_’s Kim Bodnia).
At the heart of the film is the issue of male responsibility, specifically what it means to stand up for yourself and others. Troubled and confused by what he faced in Africa, Anton has no credible response to Christian’s demand that he answer the mechanic’s abusive behaviour in kind. The painful, dangerous rift between Christian and Claus, and the growing distance between Elias and his distracted parents, only makes the situation worse. Left alone to solve their problems, Elias and Christian grow even closer. As their clandestine acts of vengeance become more drastic, the film builds to an almost unbearable intensity. Far more than a mere exercise in suspense, the film raises essential questions about a world that has grown increasingly complex. –TIFF