Directed by Max Kestner [+]
One of the only Danish science fiction films ever made, A Man Divided [+] uses futuristic iconography and themes to push further its climate change motif. In the next two-three years expect to see more science fiction pieces coming from the Nordic countries that discuss climate change, and perhaps many will build on and improve the world A Man Divided has created. A mix between a contemporary Nordic art film and a sci-fi masterpiece like Blade Runner (of which I’ll be drawing many comparisons), A Man Divided is an excellent combination of mainstream genre and Scandinavian artistry that will divide audiences but hopefully delight Scandinavian film fans.
Starring seasoned Nordic actors Carsten Bjørnlund and Sofia Helin, the film is set in Copenhagen in the year 2095, where the world has been ravaged by ecological disaster. Oceans have risen and natural freshwater has gone. Our leading man Fang Rung (Bjørnlund) undergoes molecular fission in order to send his other half, Gordon Thomas, back in time to 2017. In the world of A Man Divided, it’s possible to split yourself in two, essentially creating an identical twin, and send one twin back in time while other twin stays in the present. Fang Rung knows if he sends Gordon Thomas back in time, Gordon can track down the scientist Mona Lindkvist (Helin), whose ground-breaking research was lost as Mona died in a plane crash before her research could save the world, as often happens. However, as with all science fiction films, time travel has consequences. If Gordon attempts to save Mona from the crash, he could drastically change and corrupt the ‘present’ where Fang Rung is. To add to the matter, Mona is Fang Rung’s wife’s great-great-grandmother, Mona having a young daughter who isn’t involved in the plane crash. So, with all this in mind, Gordon is sent back in time to simply take the research and transport it to the present so Fang Rung can implement it.
When Gordon arrives back in 2017, he falls in love with the trees, the fresh air, and the calm setting of Copenhagen. When he meets Mona, he falls even more in love and disappears from Fang Rung’s sights (Rung, of course, is able to ‘watch’ Gordon via his mind). Fang Rung sees the desperation in finding not just the research but his ‘other half’, and sets out to transport himself back to 2017 to track down his twin. This has risks, of course, because if both ‘halves’ transport back in time, there’s no way of saving Rung should things go wrong. But Rung has a young, dying daughter he wants to save, and this sense of desperation sees him risk the journey back in time. Back in 2017, Rung finds it easy to track down Gordon, who seems to have decided to save Mona from the plane crash, and Rung has to make sure she gets on the plane which leads to her inevitable death. As the final of the chapter plays out, the events have shockingly devastating consequences that really surprise the audience.
As can perhaps be gathered from the above description, the plot is a little hard to follow. The science in the film feels either too complex for an 87-minute film or perhaps not as fleshed out, and for the first three-quarters of the film, it’s rather hard to follow. Too many elements are added to the story, like Rung’s dying daughter or his scientist wife or the fact that he isn’t allowed to split himself in half, to begin with. I had almost dismissed the film before the final scenes of Rung/Gordon trying to get Mona on the plane. The final section of the film is worth the gruelling first part and somehow gives itself a very ‘typical’ Nordic ending.
The narrative holes are somewhat saved from the imagery the film creates a dystopian Copenhagen, the exteriors very similar to Blade Runner, with overpopulation ravaging the inner city. One particular scene in A Man Divided is a clear homage to Blade Runner, with the neon colours of Drive thrown into the mix. Bjørnlund does a fine job of playing the lead character, his intensity a little one-dimensional (like Harrison Ford) but considering the stress the character is under perhaps it’s a little fitting. The scenes with Gordon and Fang Rung running around Copenhagen are unintentionally hilarious (who doesn’t laugh at two Carsten Bjørnlund’s running side by side?) and it would’ve been nice to have a passer-by point out how odd they look next to one other. Sofia Helin is hardly in the film, no matter how important her character is, so her being top-billed is a move to pull in a wider audience.
A Man Divided does many things right; it’s nice to see Nordic films playing with genre, especially when discussing climate change, and while the film relies too much on the science without ever explaining it, it does signal a promising start for the genre. And, if nothing else, it does produce some beautiful images of the devastation that awaits the very-flat Copenhagen when the sea rises.