42-year-old Michael needs a change in his life, so when he hears about clinical trials for a new anti-depressant, he signs up to be a guinea pig - without telling his family. Because of dangerous side effects, the trial is subsequently abandoned but Michael continues to take the pills. Having lost all control, Michael's repressed instincts resurface with a force and violence that no-one could have predicted. Written by
Where depression and insecurity merge aggressively.
This is a disturbing, psychological story that centers upon the private narrative of a man who like many people hides repression and aggression behind an overly calm exterior: in short, an example of the passive-aggressive personality type.
At once protagonist and antagonist, Mikael (Ulrich Thomsen) is in crisis with himself: he's at the mid-point of his life, he's lost his way at work and on enforced leave, and he sits around at home with this wife and daughter wondering what to do next. He exercises. He reads. He watches TV. He and his wife, Sigrid (Paprika Steen) have their married relatives, Frederick (Lars Brygmann) and Ellen (Stine Stengade), over for dinner often; they all discuss news, listen to music, see movies, talk about life, politics and so on. The two men often row together for exercise and camaraderie. Crucially, Mikael keeps a very private diary on his computer, the content of which is periodically narrated in voice-over throughout the story.
We learn that Frederick is a psychologist (perhaps psychiatrist) who is conducting test trials of a new medication designed to counter depression. It's cutting edge stuff; but there are potential, unspecified and serious side-effects. Yet, privately and away from the women, Mikael pleads with Frederick to be part of the trial. Frederick agrees, but issues strict guidelines of use when he hands over a package. Mikael agrees.
Weeks pass while Mikael settles into the routine of taking one tablet per day and weekly visits to Frederick's office for blood tests and scans. Subtly and gradually, we see that Mikael's actions begin to take turns for worse, beginning with a random act of violence on a stranger, followed by an improper suggestive proposal to a young woman that just stops short. But, Mikael feels good for the first time in months, he feels alive...
So Mikael ups the ante for himself: he starts taking more than one tablet per day and that's when his repressed desires turn upon his wife, his daughter and Ellen, with suspenseful and unsettling results. But not quite the results that one might expect because there's a twist to this story that makes the end even more unnerving and, for this viewer, more believable.
So, this is not a story that's fast-paced. It's no thriller. It is suspenseful, however, as we see how Mikael relates to his family, friends and others and how his personality subtly and overtly changes for the worse. Best of all, we know always what's going on inside his head.
I've seen Ulrich Thomsen in Brothers (2004) and The Silence (2010), both excellent and harrowing psychological portrayals of disturbed personalities. With this addition, there's no doubt he is a fine actor who can carry difficult roles well; however, he might risk becoming type-cast. The rest of the cast is more than adequate. But this is Thomsen's movie, being in the frame for nearly every bleak, color de-saturated scene, and with the additional symbolism of the closing scene staying with this viewer long after.
I guess you can see this film as an indictment of excessive recourse to drugs for social and psychological ills; on the other hand, maybe it's just a picture of post-post-modernism in which many are struggling to cope with diminishing expectations. I can relate to both. Give it a seven.
Recommended, but not for kids.
November 21, 2011.
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