Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Bothersome Man (2006)

***NOTE: The following analysis/review may contain MILD SPOILERS regarding some detail in the film, but not to the extent of making the film viewing experience any lesser.*** 

The titular bothersome man by the name of Andreas arrives at a strange looking, isolated location, with a welcome sign put up especially for him at a solitary gas station. He looks around, appears lost, but doesn't question anything outright. His confusion and perplexed stares don't last very long and before he knows it, he has a fine job, a fine apartment and a fine girlfriend in a plush, polished city that looks spectacularly ideal....on the surface at least!

Very soon, Andreas begins to realize that there is something grossly amiss, and a lot is quite sinister in this new place. The food lacks any real taste, the alcohol doesn't get him high, and everyone around him, including his girlfriend, is rather emotionally sterile! So what's really going on here?

Norwegian filmmaker Jens Lien delivers the clues but doesn't give straight answers to Andreas' situation in his "The Bothersome Man" (2006). Lien's film is a darkly comic, surreal meditation on urban alienation and a frightening vision of a society desensitized by a consumerist culture.

Andreas finds himself in an overwhelmingly stoic world that he attempts to adapt to, but can't help but carry a perpetually baffled look. Actor Trond Fausa Aurvåg displays this with an  accurately comical expression of bewilderment and a lost sense of reality, similar to an insomniac Edward Norton in "Fight Club" (1999). Everything around Andreas is rather robotic. A couple at the train station engage in a sloppy kiss with blank expressions, devoid of any real emotional connect. People seem to carry fake plastic smiles all the time, and even when they are joking around lunch or dinner, they are merely discussing what furniture to buy from a catalog (in another nod to "Fight Club").

His girlfriend becomes his girlfriend rather casually, and they engage in a ridiculously mechanical sexual act. All she ever seems to care about is furniture and interior decoration. Every scene she is in, she is either talking about or is around some decorative piece of furniture. And when she isn't doing that, she is seen watching furniture ads on TV! Even when they have guests at home, all they talk about is the home decor.

Andreas begins to get increasingly bored of this single-track mentality and a total disinterest in any other more meaningful talk, or any kind of exchange on a personal level from anyone around. A man who apparently jumps to his death is found stuck to a fence, his intestines sticking out. This scene is received rather calmly by the individuals around. No one seems to care. In a movie hall, during a very sentimental scene, it is only Andreas who seems to be quite touched, while the others look on like zombies!

In a Bunuel-esque exaggeration, fitting to the surreal nature of the narrative, Lien does not keep the lack of soul limited to the people. He extends it to the environment and practically everything contained in it. The food they consume is bland; the alcoholic drinks they down seem to lack any effectiveness. And shockingly, all this seems to bother only a handful few, Andreas being one, and one other mysterious individual rambling away in the toilet.

When another girl at his office, who initially seems warmer, reveals herself to be just as insensitive, Andreas gets weary and realizes that he doesn't belong there. But there seems to be no escaping his situation, as is illustrated in a hilariously freaky, but disturbing sequence involving a subway train. The subway scene, and the central theme of a man who finds himself in a nightmarish universe is reminiscent of Adrian Lyne's brilliant psychological thriller "Jacob's Ladder" (1990).

So what is this peculiar place, really? One way to look at it is that it's a myth-breaking representation of paradise, a paradise that everyone seeks, but one that isn't really the most ideal place to be. Or perhaps it is what Andreas achieves as a result of his quest for a personal utopia. It is the manifestation or the final shape attained by his desires, although it doesn't quite turn out to be in tune with his envisioning. What he got instead, was a tasteless world, a world with life sucked out of it.

He ended up with an outcome of a pursuit that was really meaningless and empty; a pursuit of a false happiness through worldly desires, materialistic gains, something that doesn't really spell happiness in the end. While most others in this society, thrive on a false sense of security achieved through these very material gains, content that they have found their utopia, our protagonist is awakened, and seeks to escape to find his own utopia which perhaps, doesn't exist anymore. In the process of chasing the so-called good life, he has left behind the actual good life, which he now longs to go back to.

And therefore, does the discovery of a mysterious hole in the wall give him new hope? A crack that oddly resembles a vagina, an opening that emanates a pleasant smell and lilting music, and somehow seems to give vibes of life. The hole is perhaps symbolic of a gateway to the womb, back into a quaint little motherly kitchen, with the golden sun shining bright, sounds of chirpy children in the background, and a sweet tasting cake lying on the table. What's more, the location of the hole is an apartment building occupied mostly by old timers; suggestive of the last link to the old school! Perhaps Andreas yearns to go back and start over; reclaim the lost paradise, taste the real good life again.

But is there a way back? Or is he trapped in a state of no return, in a never-ending search for a paradise that he may never see? Another journey commences, another transportation, ending up in a world that seems to be a lot more colder than this; and a blizzard seems to await him! Will it ever end for Andreas?

"The Bothersome Man" is a challenging but fun film that is entertaining, visually enticing as well as thematically rich, enough to please any hardcore cinephile. Screenwriter Per Schreiner and filmmaker Jens Lien give us lucky viewers a lot to chew on and a lot to admire in this finely crafted, enigmatic gem.

Score: 9/10

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