The Swedish Theory of Love

The Swedish Theory of Love (Sweden), by Erik Gandini, begins with a manifesto published by the political elite in Sweden in the 1970s and its contribution to the development of a most important aspect in Scandinavia culture: the concept of freedom. Prominently in Nordic countries but highly valued by the Western world, the notion of independence is attributed to the capability one has to live without help or assistance – to and from others.

It’s common to people from other cultures to quickly perceive the Nordic attachment to privacy and individualism, which certainly has positive aspects but mainly the characteristic of isolation and disconnection between people. The Scandinavian way of life is constructed to allow any individual to function on their own: there’s no need for a relationship if one wants to build up a family, no need to care for the elderly within a family and almost no need to worry, since  the government provides safety and resources. People are too secure, their basic needs are granted and the drive to look for solutions or accept compromises is lost. There is no need of interaction for survival. So why and how should people interact in a society that functions perfectly if they don’t need each other? We clearly lost most of our ability to establish contact in a more conservative way, aka ‘talking to people’, perhaps due to lack of real motivation to dive into the unpredictability of real life without a clear purpose. But to see a group of volunteers engaged into looking for missing people in the Swedish woods as a means of social interaction was beyond bizarre.

In the same way that Sweden attracts people looking for a calm and secure lifestyle, it repels some of the more sensitive souls looking for real human connection and a more spontaneous life. Some find peace in small alternative communities, whereas some decide to flee the country altogether, like the Swedish doctor who chose to live in Ethiopia to find out that complete chaos was more liberating and fulfilling than the conditions back home. According to famous Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, also interviewed on the film, independence became more important than interdependence. “We live in a globalising world. That means that all of us, consciously or not, depend on each other. Whatever we do or refrain from doing affects the lives of people who live in places we’ll never visit”. This is a brilliant argument to convince us to care more for each other, to help and to co-exist, knowing that by doing something good to others you are also preventing isolation and boredom. To be able to recognise our self-centred preoccupations and our lack of empathy is very important in times of refugee crisis and might as well save us from a deeper crisis of social values. In this sense, the film assumes a bigger and  important role as an eye-opener in actual circumstances.

Emma Vestrheim

Emma Vestrheim is the editor-in-chief of Cinema Scandinavia. Originally from Australia, she is now based in Bergen, Norway, and attends major Nordic film festivals to conduct interviews and review new films.