The film focuses around the lives of individuals in a city, crossing each others’ paths and dwelling within their own bleak struggles – financial woes; broken hearts. The situations they encounter play out like a silent film tragicomedy, where things are absurd and don’t quite work out. Andersson’s comedic style is visual and deadpan, finding humour amidst existential crises. This is a dark and very funny film. And yet, despite the struggles of the characters, there’s a sense of hope about it all.
Andersson is known for his wide, static shots, a mode of staging and shooting which he refers to making “you very curious… [causing] you [to] become an active spectator” (“The End”) within the film. A scene will fit into a carefully staged long master shot – a shot which reveals the entire world within its space. Within this shot, Andersson takes his time to play out the carefully choreographed action. What results within every shot is extremely visually rich, and Andersson makes full use of the deep space of the shots to develop visual gags and support his theme. Characters appear and reappear; stories intertwine.
Late in the film, a girl with a hopeless crush on the lead guitarist of a band retells a dream in a bar where she marries him and sets off on their honeymoon. The film cuts to her dream, where the couple are in their apartment after the wedding. Slowly, it becomes apparent through the open window of the room that the apartment is actually moving. It passes through the countryside and arrives in the city, where a crowd of well-wishers come to their window, shouting their support and hope for their future although they are strangers. The film cuts back to the girl in the bar, where she marvels how nice everyone was – how they came out to support her although they didn’t even know her. In the background of the shot, the bartender dries his eyes and a elderly man sitting at a table recounts his own wistful dream.
As hopeful as this sequence is, shortly after this scene the bombers arrive. We know how things will end for these characters, but this moment reveals something about how humanity chooses to behave when faced with oblivion. Ultimately, everything must end, but in the face of certain apocalypse, we keep living anyway. We keep supporting each other. We keep moving, and, despite all its struggles and ultimate end, it’s this act that gives life meaning.
Andersson comments, “it’s a film about the vulnerability of human beings… we should not humiliate each other, and sometimes people are forced to humiliate themselves.” (“Interview”) This is a film that laughs with the characters rather than at them. Andersson shows these characters at their darkest moments while still celebrating the act of living their lives. The opening Goethe quote, which the film takes its title from, explores these ideas: “Therefore rejoice, you, the living, in your lovely warm bed, until Lethe’s cold wave wets your fleeing foot.” As the film plays out, for all their crises, the characters relish in their present state, and we, the audience, share in these moments.