“In A Better World”
“In A Better World” (“Heaven”)
is a Danish film about two families that intersect dramatically through their
children, which a lot of people can relate to.
It’s also about peace-loving people trying to deal with the violence
all around them, which almost everyone can identify with.
Anton (Michael Persbrandt) is a
Swedish physician living in Denmark who commutes to Africa, to help the
needy villagers who have no doctor, but he’s frustrated by the horrible
violence he witnesses there: pregnant
women with their bellies slashed open, because of some sectarian strife
that’s difficult to reconcile with the happy faces of the carefree
children who run after his truck shouting in singsong unison “How are you?
How are you?”
Anton’s son, unmercifully bullied by
the bigger boys at school, befriends the new kid, the quiet one.
But he has problems of his own. His
Mom has died of cancer, and he still resents the way his Dad told him that
his Mom was going to get better. He’s
also dealing with the even darker aspects of terminal illness:
his Mom in so much pain that she was wishing she would die, and her
Dad so weary of constantly caring for her that he found himself wishing the
same thing. How could the boy not be
confused and angry? The Dad
emotionally retreats, and the boy stands up to the school bully for his new
friend’s sake. But then he
experiences the darker side of succumbing to the rage:
it feels powerful.
Anton, desperate to show the boys that
violence is not the answer, allows himself to be physically assaulted by a
man on the playground, angry because Anton had tried to stop a quarrel, and
physically restrained his son. But
the non-violent teaching moment backfires. The
boys think Anton is just a wuss.
Meanwhile, Anton’s marriage is
falling apart. We aren’t told why
he keeps apologizing to his estranged wife, but in a way, it doesn’t
matter. She isn’t having any of his
Much to Anton’s chagrin, things
start escalating both in
, his two homes. In
, it becomes increasingly difficult to remain neutral, as the warlord
who’s doing all the dismembering himself shows up at the clinic for
medical treatment. And back in
, the boys have gotten themselves into some serious trouble, and Anton must
decide how he is going to deal with the consequences of their wrong
choices---while struggling with how to forgive the sin but still love the
Despite the subtitles, and the
repeated change of venue, this film manages an internal cohesion that just
pulls the viewer through the moral quagmire.
It’s a remarkable portrait of well-meaning people dealing not only
with the inevitable grey areas, but with the blackness that threatens to
engulf everyone. No wonder it won the
Oscar and the Golden Globe for best foreign language film. It connects with
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Co-Pastor,
United Presbyterian Church,