A teenage boy expelled from school for fighting arrives at a boarding school where the systematic bullying of younger students is encouraged as a means to maintain discipline, and decides to fight back.
Erik is expelled from school for fighting. He ends up at a private boarding school where the senior students control the young ones. Erik finds a friend in Pierre, his room mate. The story revolves around Erik who just wishes to be left alone and graduate. He doesn't listen to what the seniors have to say and they don't like it.Written by
Cinematic and psychological study of adolescent cruelty
I wonder, as I write this, why a film like Ondskan hasn't received commercial distribution in the States. Perhaps distributors assume Americans are too removed from the world of mid-century upper class boy's boarding schools in Sweden to relate to the film, which is our loss. Ondskan presents a microcosm of cruelty, status, and one-upsmanship - one might say evil - that exists in such an institution. Every year we read another horror story of a hazing gone too far. Children trounce their playmates. There's plenty of physical aggression among boys. The latest discussion concerns what among girls is called relational aggression, in which an individual is harmed through the hurtful manipulation of peer relationships and/or their friendships. .Neal LaBute has taken the idea of sadistic relationships to the American workplace in 'In the Company of Men' and to the suburbs in 'Your Friends and Neighbors'. There have certainly been other films tackling this particularly subject of sadism in boarding schools, Young Torless (Der Junge Törless) in 1966, comes especially to mind. What is captivating about Ondskan ('Evil') is both cinematic and psychological. The world of this o-so reputable boys school is painted in earth tones and fine wood with muted light rendering its cold emotions. The set design by Anna Asp (who's has done some other great looking films) lets us feel as though we have lived in this space. The lead character, Erik Ponti, at first we think will be the embodiment of the 'evil' of the title. He is regularly and systematically strapped by his stepfather. He transfers that frustration to his own classmates, which is what gets him sent to the boarding school in question. There he is ritually brutalized by the upperclassmen, which is, we are led to understand, the expected behavior in this hierarchy. To the administration and faculty this is apparently part of school tradition. Eric's initial unwillingness to fight back, despite a similar unwillingness to bend to arbitrary, sadistic, and unwritten rules, is relentlessly frustrating. As an audience we really want him to act. But his honor, his fortitude, and the fact his mother has hocked some heirlooms to pay tuition, keep him from lashing back. We are thus submitted to the same unremitting abuses with no real payoff. I will refrain from revealing the end, but it is not when or what you might expect. The result is a great ride and an elating experience. The audiences at Harvard, where I saw the film, applauded afterward. It's not a perfect film. There are clichés and expected set-ups. Still the mushy adolescence of the actors cast in these parts is consistently smart. The music is tasteful and well used. The direction is subtle and the violence is felt more than seen, but when it happens it is as ugly as it deserves to be.
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