2007Director: Anders Thomas Jensen
Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Paprika Steen, Ulrich Thomsen
he film's title suggests either a laryngeal prominence common in adult males, or that legendarily tempting fruit with which the biblical Adam committed his original sin and was cast out of the garden into a cruel, evil world. Anders Thomas Jensen's film (his third as a director, though he's written dozens of screenplays for others) does indeed feature a man named Adam, a tree full of apples, and quite a bit of evil, though not perhaps in the traditional configuration one might expect.
Our anti-hero Adam (Ulrich Thomsen) embodies evil incarnate, or tries to as best he can. In the opening shot he exits a bus, and, as the driver gets begins to pull away, grabs a knife from his pocket to make a long, nasty incision on the side, apparently just for kicks. We soon find out that Adam is coming to the end of a prison term to be concluded by a short stay at Pastor Ivan's (Mads Mikkelsen) idyllic church in the countryside. Once there, Adam is shown to his room, where he unpacks and makes just one decorative change to the sparsely furnished room: replacing the crucifix on the wall with a portrait of Adolf Hitler.
During a brief interview shortly after Adam's arrival, Ivan asks him to come up with a single goal after the completion of which he will be free to leave and return to a normal civilian life. Stunned by the lax rules, Adam blithely retorts that he'd like to bake a cake, to which Ivan replies that with such a lovely apple tree in the churchyard, he might prefer an apple pie. Neither suspects the ensuing cavalcade of crimes, plagues, horrors, and spiritual combat that will follow.
An easy and at least partially apt comparison within Scandinavian cinema could be made to Ingmar Bergman's films of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, given the church setting and ongoing debate about the agency and/or absence of God. Ivan, we discover fairly early in the film, has a massive brain tumor ("The size of a volleyball!" according to the cheerfully macabre town doctor), and is apparently holding death at bay with nothing more than an oblivious and powerful faith that circumstances are not as dire as they seem. It is precisely this obnoxious faith, coupled with Ivan's inhuman reserves of patience and kindness, that enrages Adam so much that he sets out to destroy the poor man. (Fun fact: both Thomsen and Mikkelsen have appeared in James Bond films, The World Is Not Enough and Casino Royale, respectively.)
Jensen suggests an impish sort of divine malevolence at work (directly or through human agents) destroying the lives of the central characters, rather similar to Lars von Trier's Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark; the morning bells ringing in the church tower repeatedly knock the bible in Adam's room onto the floor, opening without fail to the book of Job. But where redemption and fulfillment in von Trier's films are tragic, to be found only beyond the point of death, the violence and cruelty in Jensen's film ultimately serve a comic purpose, or are simply diffused by an underlying good humor. In fact, Adam's Apples ends, like Dancer in the Dark and Dogville, with a contrapuntal musical coda, but the mood here is one of chuckling camaraderie rather than gruesome befuddlement.
Shot in glorious late summer, Jensen and cinematographer Sebastian Blenkov bathe the actors and set in an otherworldly glow, appropriate for this story that may as well take place in an alternate universe, where actions always seem to have strange, unintended consequences, and human personifications of good and evil squabble like an old married couple.
Adam’s Apples is now available on DVD.
By: Andy Slabaugh
Published on: 2007-04-06