Hi there. It’s a time when many people eat too much, drink too much, and are miserable for lots of other reasons too. If this is you, I really am very sorry and hope things improve soon. You can console yourself with the thought that this occasion only comes once a year.
I’m no expert, but the occasion of this occasion is the birth of someone who remarked that he brought “not peace but the sword”. He went on to give some unpleasant details about this, and how right he has been proved! The “Prince of Peace” said he wasn’t, straight out, but for some reason people keep wanting to not believe it.
It is true that we don’t have to think like this. We don’t need to feel that we’ve got to get down with the swordplay, and that makes it our own doing, that we go on doing terrible things. It’s our fault – all sides. We really can do something about it, if we want to.
This year, 2016, is about to conclude, and it won’t be back. Good.
While it’s been unraveling before my astonished gaze, I’ve been watching a Danish “noir” television series, The Killing. This had three seasons and I’ve brought the lot on DVD after seeing the final ten-part epic.
Generally I don’t watch television – see my blog post, “Scandinoirvian nights”. But like the Swedish police thriller Wallander, The Killing lifted television beyond its limitations to reach the standard of fine film-making – just. Television’s self-imposed limitations are present in The Killing, especially the apparent need to follow a template – each episode repeats the format so that by the end of the second installment the structure is an obstruction, artifice standing squarely in the way of art: the same music at the same place, the way the opening is interfaced with credits, etc. A film doesn’t have to succumb to this allure, though “franchises” inevitably face the same dilemma – witness the “Indiana Jones” spinoffs, or Star Wars, or James Bond: the very qualities that make the first take a success, tend to render successors trivial. These challenges to film are however splattered all over television series as if they are de rigeur, and it’s not pretty.
Despite this, The Killing is worth watching. It is unlike Wallander in that the episodes are not complete in themselves; each of the three series needs to be seen entire. Fortunately the template was tweaked for each and the last series – which your unworthy correspondent saw first – is better than the first.
The Killing has a lot to say, but it is not always clear whether it means to say it. The series focused on a police homicide detective, Sarah Lund, who was the only woman on the squad. The acrress portraying her, Sophie Grabol, said that initially she had a hard time working out Lund’s personality, but when she realised the character was a man in a woman’s body, it became easier.
The brains behind the series, Soren Sveistrup, might or might not have enjoyed this characterisation. Certainly Lund is a fractured person with an intensity of focus that rattles her colleagues; once the bit is between her teeth she doesn’t let up, even when she is suspended. She is a genius at solving horrific murders, sees things others miss, and is thus invaluable. . .but. . .well, I’m not going to offer any spoilers here.
The series succeeds despite its limitations. If it is to be believed, Denmark is a festering sinkhole of envy, intrigue and corruption – still rotten despite Hamlet’s stable cleansing efforts all those centuries ago. The police force is not only not exempt, but also so flagrantly incompetent it is a wonder any crimes are ever solved, leaping to conclusion after conclusion in the rush to get a conviction. Innocent suspects are dragged into the station to be verbally abused and often have their lives ruined, to be replaced by other innocent suspects, while the police officers spend a lot of time blaming and talking past each other, when not ordering someone else to do something. Meanwhile, victims’ families’ lives are torn apart, politicians are dragged into the affair, while the culprit’s machinations suggest that Hamlet’s* ability to concoct and carry out an involved plan behind a facade was not a one-off and may even be a Danish character trait.
So Sarah Lund succeeds in a man’s world by being more than a man, and it is hard on her psyche. This says something, and for those of you who have followed this blog, you will know what I think, or if you don’t, try “Grand Larssony” and “Toiling with Troilus”. We are talking epochal realignments here, true progress – or not.
Scandinoirvian crime depiction is gruesome. Both Wallander and this series feature murders ranging from draining the blood of the victim while still conscious, torture and dismemberment, to the most brutal rapes and beyond. That the true focus lies in the human relationships of the series verges on contradiction, but ultimately that is the underlying point, and it is a political one, whether authors mean it or not. Certainly Henning Mankell, the man behind Wallander, was a “leftist” radical, and Millennium trilogy author Stieg Larsson’s politics were also well out there.
All this blood and guts and tension, and the year we are finishing up has included a new word imported from Danish into English: “hygge”, which means a kind of comfort that one finds in mug of tea and a blanket on a cold night, especially when shared with loved ones. In Norwegian the concept is given a name that is a semi-cognate of our “cosy”.
The murderers may go out and do despicable things before heading home for a quiet cuppa and a nuzzle with someone dear.
Hopefully this isn’t you, dear reader. Please enjoy this time, and head into 2017 with hope in your heart, a smile on your beautiful lips, and a song in your throat ready to greet the world.
*It has always seemed to me that Hamlet has been unfairly maligned for his supposed inability to act. On the contrary he was plainly a genius who overcame many obstacles to avenge the murder of his father and clean up a corrupt regime, though he was thwarted and died in the attempt.