Anders-Thomas Jensen :: Denmark :: 2004 :: 1h34
Adam, a misfit neo-nazi is sentenced to spend three months at naive priest Ivan’s parish in the countryside. Obliged to set himself a mission by the priest, Adam says he will bake a cake with the priest’s prized apple tree. A curious and absurd harsh-colored script ensues, with a dark, dark humor looming over. Because of the quantity of Christian symbolism which is used seemingly arbitrarily, it is hard to discern meaning in the absurdity. Perhaps the image of crows (symbol of death) eating up the Church’s apple tree (knowledge) should be indication enough that there is no wisdom to be found in the absurdity… None the less, there is a conscious effort of Mr Jensen invite the viewer to try, a challenge I will here accept.
(SPOILER – attempted analysis ensues)
The mission taken on by hate-monger Adam is the gaining of knowledge (the baking of the apple pie from the wisdom tree). It’s completion is jeopardized by divine intervention. None the less, Adam is re-invigorated in the face of this adversity to achieve his goal. He is presented, again by divine intervention, with the book of Job.
For those who need reminding, in the book of Job, the pious Job was tested time and time again (by Satan), stripping him of all he cherished in life, to see if he would renounce his faith. Job’s faith withstood any challenge posed. Eventually, God restored the good fortune of Job. If this tale is to have a direct parallel in the movie, who would it be?
The Sinner: Adam is removed from his life of violence into the Parish garden. His primitive reactions (brute force) no longer have the same effect, rendering them useless. He discovers a moderation in evil through the adversity, without a concrete change of heart. If the devil was taunting him, it could only be through irrationality, but even there I think that would be taking it too far. From evil to moderate with flashes of kindness is mild as far as transformations go. There is not much of a link between Adam and Job. Let us try to see if he can serve as a pawn for the priest.
The priest: Ivan is surrounded by misfortune and evil. He recognizes it as a challenge set by the devil (as if he was Job), but he lives with it by obliterating it from his experience instantaneously (even if it slaps him in the face by the hand of Adam). But Ivan has neither the faith, nor the right attitude towards his misfortune to be able to consider himself as Job. His surreal care-free attitude to life, blocks out the very suffering which would be testing him. He does, however, get some solace, when one grave misfortune miraculously cancels out another. Also, his existence brings about some good into the world (not really the case for Job), although the providence of his condition seems to bring it about rather than his conscious effort. The priest’s misfortunes are not restored nor compensated for, further removing the parallels with the book of Job.
As none of the side characters fit into the mold of Job either, we must be expected not to take it too literally. That view would be supported by the lightning destruction of the apple tree after it had been eaten bare. Without the tree of knowledge, without a guiding priest, without a hate-mongering fascist, we are still left with drunks and crooks. Beyond good and evil, there is still kindness possible, in an, admittedly, absurd world without direction.
A curious and enigmatic movie which invites to reflection, but it is not at all certain where that leads us. Try for yourself, or just watch for the dark, dark humor.
http://www.adamsaebler.dk (in Danish)