“Haevnen,” Cedarville’s recent Foreign Film Series offering, covers the complexity of human emotions, pain and empathy by showing the conflicts that lead the characters to a difficult choice between revenge and forgiveness.
The Danish film, also known as “In a Better World,” was shown Thursday, Feb. 13.
Anton is a doctor who commutes between his home in Denmark and his work at an African refugee camp. Anton and his wife Marianne, who have two young sons, are separated and struggling with the possibility of divorce. Later, the viewer learns this is because Anton had cheated on Marianne.
The eldest son, Elias, is constantly bullied at school until he is defended by a new student named Christian. Christian has just moved from London with his father, Claus, after Christian’s mother recently lost her battle with cancer. Christian is greatly troubled by her death and unable to control the pain he is experiencing.
Elias and Christian quickly form a strong bond, but Christian soon involves Elias in a dangerous act of revenge with potentially tragic consequences, testing their friendship and putting lives at stake.
While there is definitely a message in the movie that violence begets more violence, the opposite approach — allowing others to harm you without doing anything to stop them — also seems problematic.
In one scene, Anton allows an aggressive man to continue slapping him in front of his children (including Christian), yet Anton does not retaliate. Anton tells the children that the aggressive man could not truly harm him because that man is just a bully and a coward, but Christian does not understand why Anton did not defend himself or call the police. After witnessing this event and Elias being bullied, Christian reasons that evil people get away with everything because no one will stand up, so he must take matters into his own hands.
The film also portrays a gray world — no rights or wrongs exist. When Elias is hospitalized as a result of Christian’s plan for revenge, Christian is heartbroken. However, Christian had no problem carrying out his plan for revenge until Elias got hurt. The overall message here is that any kind of action is acceptable as long as no unintended consequences result. This also begs the question about whether or not any action is good or bad in and of itself.
This moral dilemma is especially evident in Anton’s refugee camp in Africa — a place ungoverned by a sense of law or authority. Many of Anton’s patients are victims of a cruel man who later comes to the camp asking for help. Despite Anton’s kindness, the man does not change, and Anton finally can no longer tolerate him and hands him over to the refugees, who exact their revenge. This action may give the viewer a sense that justice was finally served in a lawless world, but, in reality, this is only the appearance of justice because Anton acted based on his hatred.
There is strong sense of moral obligation (or sympathy) and moral repugnance based on a person’s decisions. Right and wrong are judged by whether an action is the “lesser of two evils” at the moment.
Apart from these situational ethics, the film also gives the appearance of a happy ending. In reality, though, this is more of a hollow, tepid victory than anything else. While it is true that life does not have happy endings like Hollywood depicts, there is also the sense that there is not truly anything that anyone can do in fighting evil.
Overall, there was no sense of real redemption or victory in the film. There is a strong sense of situational ethics that is also based on personal decisions, but the issue of personal motive is not covered. A Christian would understand that to change someone’s actions, one must get to the heart of those actions, knowing that there is hope and redemption for everybody, no matter how cruel they may be. In Anton’s case, he treated the man’s physical wounds, but Anton did not treat the man’s heart as a Christian would do.
A Christian would also explain why his cruelty is wrong rather than simply stating that fact. A Christian would also explain the consequences of sin and the hope of salvation. Even so, humans do not always change after hearing the message of salvation, and the film aptly demonstrates this.
Paulene Kolota is a sophomore journalism major and reporter for Cedars. She likes to study other cultures and loves manga and anime, but is not quite an otaku.