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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Troubled Water" is a film that encourages viewers to think about
truth, forgiveness, and second chances. Jan is seeking to start a new
life after he is released from prison for a crime he says he didn't
commit, and so he finds a job as an organist in a church. He was
imprisoned for the murder of a four-year-old boy, and later on in the
film, the viewers meet the family of the boy that died. It isn't until
later in the film that the two sides of the story meet and the story
becomes clear, so the viewers spend a large part of the film wondering
what actually happened to the boy that died. Director Erik Poppe uses
flashbacks to show bits and pieces of what happened, but not the full
story until later. This method of releasing information little by
little can create feelings of suspense, but can also cause confusion
Poppe often jumps back and forth between parts of a story. It was very common in another of his films, "Hawaii, Oslo" and is prevalent in this film as well. The film starts with Jan's story about starting his new life and seeking a second chance, and then dives in to Agnes's story about what her life has been like after her son died. Jumping around from story to story causes suspense, which can be good, but it also frustrated me. I couldn't believe that Jan would leave Jens on his own with the bike, after everything Jan had been through, going to prison, and now starting his life over again. It seemed to me that Jan was being extremely reckless in that scene, and it frustrated me even more when Poppe didn't show us what happened until much later. This very well could have been his intention, to create suspense, but I found it almost annoying. It makes it difficult to discern the truth.
"Truth" is also used in a religious sense in the film, when Jan and Anna are discussing religious matters and what they believe in. Jan is trying to find some truth within himself, as far as where he belongs and what his place is in the world. Playing organ for a church seems to have an interesting impact on him, while he begins a new life and is surrounded by Christians. Eventually he joins in and receives Communion. Agnes is also searching for a truth, because she wants to know what really happened and is unwilling to forgive Jan.
Forgiveness is something that Jan and Agnes are both struggling with. Jan discusses forgiveness with Anna. Agnes is unwilling to forgive Jan for what he did, partially because she doesn't know exactly what happened, but also because she believes he killed her son, which would be unforgivable. Agnes's husband, Jon, is more willing to move on with life and let it go, and he is able to provide a voice of reason for Agnes, who goes out of control toward the end of the film. It was hard for me to watch the part where Agnes takes Jens away from Jan. At first it seems like she's taking him just to get back at Jan, because she's in a terrible mood and is being rather irrational. It seems to be a classic case of "two wrongs don't make a right". I thought that Agnes was moving too quickly and out of control, and it seemed like she was going to cause more trouble. Eventually it becomes clear that she was trying to protect Jens, in a way, but I think she did more harm than good.
Jan is given a second chance to do something good with his life when he is released from prison to go play organ at a church. Although we later find out that he did essentially kill the young boy, the people at the church are willing to let him work there, to give him a second chance. In one scene, Agnes is upset with the church for allowing him to work there. The man from the church says that he is not defending Jan's previous actions, but there is no better place for him to receive a second chance than at the church. Agnes still struggles with what Jan did do her son though, and she won't forgive him or give him a second chance.
Erik Poppe encourages viewers to think about their own lives and what is important. He uses truth and forgiveness to encourage thought and reflection. I found "Troubled Water" to be a wonderful catalyst for reflection on my own life, although there were various aspects of the film that I was rather annoyed with, specifically jumping between stories and Agnes's rash action. Nevertheless, Poppe delivered an entertaining and thought-provoking film with a good story to tell.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
What goes through a mother's mind when her child is stolen? Is this
response different if the mother figure in this scenario is replaced
with a convicted child kidnapper and murderer? What place can faith,
relationships, and guilt have in the life of this convicted murderer?
Troubled Water, a Norwegian film directed by Erik Poppe, delves into
these and other thought-provoking questions concerning family dynamics
in somewhat unique situations, guilt and reputation, and faith.
The film revolves around the dynamic between a mother and wife, Agnes, and the man who was in the past convicted for the murder of her son, Thomas. Throughout the tale we are able to glimpse the relationship between Thomas and Anna, a priest, as well as the family of Agnes. With Thomas and Agnes' relationship, the themes of faith and the importance of reputation is developed. The role of secrets and the importance of opening up about emotions are explored through the marriage between Agnes and Jon. Agnes also has two adopted children, and their family goes through the decision to, and process of, moving to another country for work. All of these dynamics add different layers to the story, as does the non-chronological organization of the film. The film features snippets of flashback to the incident throughout, as well as having parallel structure. Troubled Water starts off with the story of Thomas. There is a brief flashback to the past incident, but not enough is shown to reveal the magnitude of Thomas' actions. This beginning to the story gives the viewer a unique perspective of sympathy with his character. As the story progresses, this sympathy is deepened until the viewers are, at the end of the story when Thomas' guilt is revealed, able to forgive Thomas as Agnes does. This interesting perspective allows for different ways of looking at ideas of guilt and reputation. Agnes' account comes second, an account of her actions in the same few days. This dual perspective put emphasis on the importance of these two characters, as well as their relationship and their effect on each other. This adds to the richness of the tale, clarifies the focus of the story, and continually questions the viewers' perspectives on guilt, the importance of past events, and reputation.
The filmmaking also intensifies the complexity of the story. Choppy scenes as quick snapshots bring in many more little aspects to the plot. For example, on short scene depicts Thomas killing a fly during his efforts to open a window for Anna. Anna stops him and tells him that she'd only wanted the window open to free the fly. Little scenes like this add complexity to both the characters and the plot. In this case, Anna's propensity to protect life is showcased, as well as the straightforward thinking of Thomas.
The use of color contrasts, dark and light, are used to exaggerate some common themes in the film: guilt/secrets and hope/love. For example, at one point Agnes and Jon are in their car and telling secrets and the lighting is very dark, almost completely black, with brief flashes of light on their faces. I believe this symbolizes how sharing their secrets show brief hope for their relationship. Often in the movie dark colors are employed before flashbacks to sources of guilt, as well. Alternatively, when Thomas plays the organ in the church, his hope and happiness in the moment aren't directly stated yet are implied with bright sunshine-infused camera shots. The effect of this technique is a closer tie to the emotions of the characters.
This film tries to address many complex themes, such as faith, music, and paranoia. However, in my opinion the two most developed and interesting themes were those of family dynamics as well as the aftermath of bad situations. The theme of family dynamics is developed through issues of husbands trying to keep their wives' emotions at home (seen at the dinner party with Jon's boss), the effect on a whole family when one member wants to move to another country, and, most importantly, the tie between adults and children they care about and try to protect. The theme of the effects of momentary bad decisions and bad luck is also a common theme. The guilt, tarnished reputations, and psychological impacts of situations like this collectively make up the most developed theme in this film. From the perspective of Thomas, guilt is developed as well as the far-reaching and community-implied importance of maintaining a good reputation. The viewer is forced to feel sympathy for Thomas when Anna discovers his past and yells at him. The film offers a rebuttal to the societal disdain for sullied pasts, seeming to question the extreme importance of past actions and mistakes on the degree to which a person is accepted and viewed in the present. The film does a good job of not being radical on this and other points, yet simply asks questions which broaden the viewer's understanding of certain issues.
This highly-layered and inquisitive film is well-made and well-developed, accomplishing its goal of leaving the viewer with a greater understanding of the complexity of all situations. After all, what good is a world that is simply black and white?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
How does a mother cope with the kidnapping and murder of her 4-year-old
This Norwegian film impressionistically captures the aftermath of such a horror, with a great performance by Trine Dyrholm as Agnes, a loving mother who leaves her son in a stroller while she pops into a shop to buy him the hot chocolate he has requested -- and then is delayed when it spills and she tries to scrub a stain.
It's during this serendipitous delay that Pal Hagen, as the inscrutable Jan, makes his devastating move.
We meet Jan when he is about to be released from prison and is given a taste of his own medicine by embittered inmates that he'll be leaving behind. In a scenario that likely would never take place in an American lockup, Jan has learned to play the organ while incarcerated. That ability lands him a job at a church where he meets the idealistic Anna (Ellen Petersen), a younger dead ringer for Agnes who just happens to have a son about the same age as the child Jan had kidnapped.
Using music unusually effectively, this film creates tension whenever we see Jan around little Jens. We never learn why he kidnapped a child -- pedophilia seems not to have been a motive -- and we are left to squirmingly wonder whether he would murder again on opportunity.
This film is extremely powerful in depicting Jan's halting relationship with Anna, and Agnes's heart-wrenching attempt to come to peace with her loss. We also sense the tremendous gulf between men and women as they each try to survive losses in their own way.
The storyline is beautifully woven here, leaving a lasting impression and elucidating trauma's aftereffects. Quite realistically, we are left clueless as to why this type of crime can -- and does -- occur.
I just chanced upon this film. It is the story of a young man who makes a horrible mistake. Like so many bad decisions, this act directed the rest of his life. Now we find him out of prison, trying to hold on to a job as a church organist. What I thought was really a good move was to be sure that many were aware of his past. It would have been a much weaker film if he had secretly kept those in authority in the dark about why he was where he was. The interactions of the characters are believable and real. He develops a relationship with a woman and her child and then has to face the fact that his trust needs to be earned. He is filled with guilt and would like to start over, but his every move is scrutinized; his actions are being observed by the woman for whose child's death he is held responsible. The grieving of the family is palpable and it is hard to blame them. The central theme of forgiveness is here all along. How often have we heard that failure to forgive can poison us eventually. That is at work here again and it is handled impressively. The acting is subdued and controlled. There is no citizenry carrying pitchforks. I recommend this movie without hesitation.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie is way better than I first expected before watching it. The director of this movie is named Erik Poppe who's from Norway. The story begins with a sort of down, sad, and gloomy tone of background music which sounds like a lullaby. After viewing this film, the key word I can sum up in one word is the reconciliation. It's about losing a child boy who means everything to the mom, Agnes. The narrative is nonlinear and broken down well to each separate pieces like a jigsaw puzzle but with a limited amount of pieces. The pieces are the nonlinear scenes that repeat many times with different point of views and angles to accommodate the audience's understanding to help realize the story's resolutions as it comes to end. There are two parts divided into almost a hour each from the beginning to the end; first half shows about the main guy, Jan Thomas who allegedly kidnapped and murdered the child, stealing the pram and ultimately drowning the little boy around the small river. Then it reveals briefly that he went to prison and somehow got out to start to live a normal life after serving the sentence. He plays the organ while in prison, so he looks for a real outside job as the church organ player afterward, which works out for him. The church owners acknowledge his performance, thus liking him without much further questions. The main guy, Jan Thomas, is seemingly unstable, exhausted, and stressed by his accidental incident that got him into the prison in the first place; for example, he gets startled and uneasy whenever a little boy child is around him. He tries to maintain himself and tries to put his life back on normal again. There is a certain shot I like, which repeats about 5 or 6 times throughout the whole film. It's not that common among many modern Hollywood films, or rather say it goes against the Hollywood film-making rules somewhat. The shot is extreme close-up on the character's face with either no sounds or low wheezing sound. It's very eerie to me though how such shots interrupt the certain scenes during the movie. It looks to me that the director puts such shots to express the characters' inner chaos or certain evil nature whenever the certain evil climax are about to happen before or after. The shots of the extreme facial close-ups happen before stealing the pram and before drowning the child boy. Also, it happens whenever certain emotional breakout or angst is about to show up for the character, and it does before or after. That's pretty European style of film-making as some of the old, unconventional, past European experimental films were. First half shows how the man is struggling after the incident with a new child boy of a new girl friend, the child boy reminds him of the ever-tormenting child victim that got accidentally killed. Next half reveals the story of other side; the child victim's mom is constantly searching for the real answer as to what happened to her only son's death which was quite buried down deep like the missing drowned child body. I really like the editing of this narrative as its plot is well cut and divided well like the zebra black and white stripes; it fits with good direction to bring out its most strong points or themes of the film, the Reconciliation between the tormented souls by the incident. It's quite ingenious to see how they cut the narrative into certain pieces in order to make the viewer's mind just as much nervous and eager as the both main characters'. The child victim's mom, Agnes, acts superbly to make it look more realistic and natural. It basically looks like the plot revolves around two different separate characters, but the whole plot is pretty much the same one. They are just told differently with different angles and point of views from the different each character, thus enabling more suspense and curiosity. There are several good turnouts, too that he sort of admits finally at the end that he actually killed him after keeping repetitively that it wasn't his fault; it eventually reconciliates him with the victim mom. Therefore, it frees them both from the anger, revenge, and constantly tormenting guilt, each for the man's killing guilt and for the mom's once-for-lifetime carefree act guilt to lose her precious child. Finally, one more thing the film taught me was one small action can result in one of the most regrettable incidents in your whole life, such as the one from this film that the mom just went inside to get hot chocolate that got spilled over her white sweater which prolonged her absence from the child, hence causing the kidnapping. Because the director emphasizes the spilled hot chocolate a couple of times toward the end of the film. It's a well-shot and directed film, and I really like it!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Troubled Water" is a suspenseful, mind-boggling movie, making the viewer feel sentimental from two different perspectives. I say this, because the movie shows different perspectives from both Jan and Agnes who are the main characters. At first I thought the movie was just going to be about Jan and how he is going to try and fit into society after he gets out of prison and all of a sudden the movie rewinds and shows how Agnes is dealing with the fact Jan just got out of jail after "murdering" her son. It was very confusing at first, but I feel the director Erik Poppe correlated this confusion very well to come up with a great ending. Meet Jan Thomas who is a confused, mysterious, and a distraught character trying to fit back into society. Jan who is played by Pal Sverre Valheim Hagen, was sentenced to prison for the murder of Isaac. He is hired after he is let out of prison to play organ for the Catholic Church in his city. He is a very talented musician, but I get the sense his music makes him think back on the crime he committed because he looks very torn and discomforted while he plays. Overall, I believe the murder of Isaac reflects his character and the person he is trying to be Agnes who is played by Trine Dyrholm, is a depressed, past dweller. She is the mother of Isaac, the boy Jan "murdered." The first time we meet Agnes one is not able to distinguish her character, but when she first sees Jan, one is able to see how she is a very confused person. She always is doing absurd actions through out the movie, because she is always thinking how to get back at Jan for what he did. The title "Troubled Water" is a very good title and theme for the movie, because every scene where there is water something always seems to go wrong. The river along with tears, all is uses of water reflecting these issues. Another important theme scene in the movie is stealing. In the beginning scene it shows Jan stealing Isaac away from Agnes when she enters the coffee shop. Also to get revenge on Jan, Agnes towards the end of the movie decides to steal Jan's girlfriend's son Jen. There were a few questions I had about the movie particularly relating to the Norwegian Judicial System and the ideology of Catholicism in Norway. As mentioned earlier, Jan was imprisoned for the murder of Agnes' son Isaac. I really want to know how much time he spent behind bars. In America, if someone is convicted of murder, they are sentenced to life. I know the Norwegian Judicial System is much different compared to the U.S., but wouldn't you think Jan would be sentenced longer? The movie doesn't necessarily say how long he was in prison, but one would think Jan's character would've looked more aged? It just seems absurd to me that he would've spent at the most ten years judging off of his character resemblance. Even flashbacks of Agnes when she was younger and scenes of her in the present seems as if Jan wasn't in prison for very long. I feel the director needed to make this clearer to not leave the viewer is such a confused state. Another criticism I have of this movie was how Catholicism was represented. Jan's girlfriend Anna who is a Catholic priest, is shown having a relationship with a man and on top of that, there is a scene where Jan and Anna are having sex. If I know correctly, a priest is not supposed to have relationships, yet alone have sex. Maybe the director of the movie is trying to demonstrate how Norwegians don't value religion as much, but it is appalling because this is not the Catholic way. To me these criticisms show how the director and the film writer are well- uneducated bringing down my rating of the movie. Overall I would give "Troubled Water" a 6 out of 10 stars. The movie had a very good plot and amazing imagery, but from my criticisms mentioned earlier, I feel some things just didn't make sense leaving me with a confused state.
I really wanted to like this movie because one of my friends, with whom I have similar tastes with, recommended it. I loved the unique points of view of the camera and focus shots. The music was also amazing! Throughout the whole movie I kept wondering if the music was purposely written for this film. But the theme and story were a great disappointment. In the beginning, it seems like this man is a horrible person and you wonder how this movie will make him into a hero. But then, as the story unravels, it clears up the story little by little showing that this man is actually not who you thought he was. But not because you prejudged him (as in Les Misarables or similarly) but because the movie itself led you to believe that he was incarcerated for one crime, where he actually didn't commit it. So at the end you are just left with the feeling of broken judiciary system, rather than a transformation of character or feeling that you saw a different point of view. I did not feel enlightened from the predictable and a cliché "thriller" ending and ultimately felt like I watched a regular Hollywood movie.
The two main actors are doing excellent work as the immature Jan Thomas
and the grief-stricken Agnes, and the organ music is truly powerful.
These are the good parts.
The bad sides are that the plot is thin, the manuscript uses dubious techniques to get us intrigued and the pacing runs like syrup.
The writer, Harald Rosenløw-Eeg is a YA-writer and I think this shows here. The plot deals with morality like typical Norwegian social-realism: the kind of YA-fiction a teacher would recommend. (The kids prefer books about star struck lovers and epic sword-fights, but that's another story).
The big problem with the manuscript, in my eyes, is that it delivers the story like it's a crime mystery when in reality it is a heavy character-driven drama. Gradually revealing twist after twist works well in Poirot-style-not-too-realistic-plots, but here it just leaves a sour taste when it is contrasted by the deep-felt character development.
The pacing is slow, slow, slow and many of the scenes seems overstated. It could have made a truly great short-film though.
The female minister was a wonderful actor the main character Thomas was
well cast as someone you wouldn't care for but this movie drags. It
resembles a sophisticated Lifetime TV channel special.
Two teenage boys for a "prank or thrill" take off with a 4 year old. They think he has been killed when he falls down a river bank...they decide to get rid of the body by disposing of it in the river. The mother of the boy is convinced they killed her son who was never found. The movie opens when one of the teenagers is released from prison. Now in his late 20s he finds a job in a church where forgiveness atonement etc...all workout.
This is basically a Lifetime TV special/yuppie Norwegian movie with all the icons...female priest...adopted Asian children...obligatory love scene between a couple married for many years.
Real life is not like this of course--once the mother found out the truth she would hate Thomas more. In the end he confesses that the boy was alive when he dropped him in the river.
It is so slow moving and so "lets tell a moral tale" laden down with all the conventional middle-class baggage. Ughh...
There are a lot of good Norwegian films...Watch Oslo August 31 instead it is so much better.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Movie's best asset is its structural variation: two teens steal a
carriage, with a four year-old boy inside who is injured and then
killed. The teens go to jail and after eight years one of them is
released. We follow him until, an hour into the film the story backs up
and focuses on the mother whose child was kidnapped all those years ago
by our lead character. Now we stay with her until this storyline merges
with the young man who snatched her child. The final act is
action-packed (by the standards of this film) and fills in what
happened to the kidnapped child all those years ago.
Unfortunately our young male lead is, after his release from prison, not terribly active in his new life, slinking around passively with a one-note, dour look on his face. It's something of a mystery why the beautiful pastor at the church where he works would be drawn to him; in any case, it's a relief to team up with the wronged woman at the midpoint. She's far more active, a little crazy (who wouldn't be after losing a child?) and not easy for her husband or two adopted kids to live with.
Unfortunately, the longueur of the initial fifty minutes of the film is never really overcome. The story's essential sadness, the ponderous characters and the evil banality of the final revelation all make for what is essentially an unrewarded effort. The story's structure is interesting and fun there are small flashforwards and backs throughout that work effectively and the novel storytelling might have worked with a slightly more dynamic plot. But what really sinks things is the performance of Pal Sverre Valheim Hagen as the child killer (for which the director must take the blame). His portrayal, while believable, is enervating and not charismatic enough to carry even half a movie.
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