Every stage of human life brings new challenges, responsibilities, hopes and happiness, or occasionally sadness. One can argue that settling down and starting a family ranks as the number one step, since this is the time when the individual becomes independent (of their parents) and dependent (on their partners) at the same time. Ideally, by the time the baby comes a solid and strong relationship can be witnessed, which still can be tested during parenthood. Uncertainty becomes part of everyday life, since no one can dictate the rhythm anymore, unless one does not pay any attention to the external noises or the others’ needs.
One cannot be surprised that topics such as domestic child abuse1 and violence against women are destined to be on screen in Danish cinema. “In Denmark, a telephone survey of 3,552 women found that 50% of women had experienced physical or sexual violence, or threat from a partner or a non-partner, since the age of 16. […] The FRA survey found that in Denmark 55% of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence or threat from a partner or a non-partner since the age of 15.”23 However, not Denmark the only Scandinavian country that has ranked relatively high on this shameful list, Sweden appears on it as well.
Nonetheless, Susanne Bier and Anders Thomas Jensen do not attempt to find reasons for this particular issue, but instead of choosing a holistic approach, they focus mainly on two Danish couples that cannot be more different. The only similarity they share that they both have welcomed their first child recently. Andreas and Anna enjoy total social security and all kinds of benefits provided by the welfare state. They live in a spacious house outside town, they try to spend as much time as possible together, and they devote their time to their newborn baby, who cries a lot during nights, therefore, one of them has to take him for a walk or a ride. In contrast to that, Tristan and Sanne live in an extremely dirty and tiny apartment, and mostly spend their day taking drugs. Tristan instead of being a caring father behaves aggressively, which is heard by their neighbours so police officers visit the couple fairly often.
They cross each other’s life when Andreas and his partner Simon are assigned to see what is happening at Tristan’s. They find the couple under the influence of drugs and their baby lying in its own defecation in the bathroom. This extremely upsets Andreas, partly because of his situation of being a new dad. He wants social justice immediately. However, he needs to tackle all the bureaucratic and administrative impediments that stand in the way first. Social workers cannot do anything because the baby is healthy, which makes Andreas even angrier. He knows what will happen and can’t stand it so he is doing his best to relocate the baby into a safer environment. He is slightly biased by stereotypes and prejudices, and acts according to the cultural conventions prevailing in Denmark, which is understandable, since he seemingly has combined his previous experience and knowledge with the present situation.
Constructing ideas and forming opinion is simpler when one takes an outsider position because individuals are mostly more biased when they have to reflect upon their own life. This might be the reason why Andreas doesn’t notice the ominous signs at home. One night, out of the blue, Andreas finds their child dead. His clever solution – for everyone – is to switch his son to Tristan and Anna’s baby, who despite being treated badly is still alive. Andreas is convinced that his actions are morally established on the grounds that he is about to save a life, even though he about to perform an illegal act. Under these particular circumstances he doesn’t follow the code of ethics provided for police officers and human beings, he behaves as a desperate dad who tries to get out of an unbearable situation, even if this means he has to leave her only child behind. He expects no one will order an investigation due to the fact that the couple is known for their inhuman and inhumane way of living. Nevertheless, Andreas not only has to find out in the end that his wife has committed suicide, but he is also informed that their real baby died because of child abuse, which means Tristan and Sanne have to face murder charges. No other option is available, Andreas has to come clean and admit his wrongdoings.
What one can see in the Danish drama is without doubt the reality one lives in. The moral fight against stereotypes and prejudices hasn’t ended yet, there is a long way to go. Whenever one sees something culturally and socially acceptable or unacceptable, they will create a reality on their own: drug addicts are probably not the most suitable material to be parents and well-situated couples could probably never harm a baby. But are these assumptions always true?
Director Susanne Bier and screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen bring an acute societal and social problem to light while elaborating on social vulnerability. Unexpected events comprise human life, which most of the time challenge the individual, who is required to revalue their beliefs from time to time. In the end, there is always a glimpse of hope indicating it’s never too late to start over.
1 – Mogens Nygaard Christoffersen, Cherie Armour, Mathias Lasgaard, Tonny Elmose Andersen, ‘The Prevalence of Four Types of Childhood Maltreatment in Denmark’ in Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health, 10/2013
2 – European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, Violence against women: an EU-wide survey published 2014
3 – Flemming Balvig and Britta Kyvsgaard, ‘Vold og overgreb mod kvinder’ in Dansk rapport vedrørende deltagelse i International Violence Against Women Survey, published 2006