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« Tycoon | Main | I felt a Funeral, in my Brain »
Saturday
Mar012008

After the Wedding

There is a certain melancholy in seeing how the impoverished live that cannot be set aside when you get home like a scarf or coat.  It is not provoked by guilt, because guilt is simply feeling bad for yourself: it is provoked by shame.  Shame for participating in a society that allows millions to have nothing, not even hope, and going about your daily business without any plan for changing the situation.  Shame for smiling upon moneyed persons and defending their wealth by claiming that they worked harder than anyone else to get it.  For your information, no one works harder than those who have nothing to lose and will plough a field for a day’s ration of bread.  They have nothing but a slim chance of sustaining themselves past a certain age, and their children are doomed to the same cycle of poverty (which one courageous soul decided to break a few decades ago by founding this bank).  Shame for permitting your petty imperfections to justify your lashing out at loved ones and friends, thinking of yourself as some kind of victim because you can’t quite get the most beautiful young woman in the office to go out with you, and wallowing in the existential angst that is the calling card of selfish, bloated postwar Europe.  Shame for not giving a damn about distant and irretrievably estranged countries that produce your entire wardrobe and the coffee you spend hundreds of dollars on per year, and which have the gall and cheek to ask you to support their children for a third of that daily latte budget.  Shame for sitting back and thinking that you deserve these privileges and opportunities more than other human beings. You may not quite believe these statements, but you would do well to consider their seriousness.  Disparities in global wealth are rather staggering and will continue in the years to come to thunder past our ingenuous notions of equality.  Some of us, braver than any man of violence, actually uproot our easy lives and travel to the less fortunate nations of the world with more than just a heavy heart, but to live and work and help.  Oftentimes it does not even take a lengthy stay to convince someone to amend his perspective on aid (as in the case of this rather dashing fellow), and we realize that if just ten percent of us either propagandized against greed or helped onsite, we could work absolute wonders.  And all these statements – every last one of them – could have been uttered by Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen), the protagonist of this recent film.

Jacob is so good that our knowledge of humanity tells us he is either not human or making up for some blemish on his conscience.  As it were, neither assessment does justice to the breadth of his personality, which is idealistic, stubborn (no one is more stubborn than an idealist), and toned in just the right way as to avoid sentimentality and gushing pathos.  You and I know Jacob is a good man: he runs an orphanage in one of the more miserable parts of India, and he runs it passionately because he knows that few others would or could.  That noble assumption of responsibility drives him to rather extreme categorizations (no one is more categorical than an idealist), with a contempt for luxury and the rich that borders on the homicidal.  He is tempered in his hatred by Pramod, his eight-year-old ward whose life spans precisely the same period as that of the orphanage’s financial decline.  This may or may not be a coincidence (many numbers within a work of art are often repeated accidentally, especially if they don’t really matter), but it is certain that Jacob’s shelter may be crushed by the eternal evil of insufficient bankrolling.  He is desperate but positive (no one is more positive than an idealist), and he reassures Pramod and us that he will find a way to keep helping the abandoned, the poor, and the very unlucky.

With this type of setup we know full well what will occur, but perhaps not quite how.  Jacob will be tempted by the money he needs to retain his orphanage, yet this wonderful beneficence may come at the cost of his generous soul.  So when he is summoned to his native Denmark by a billionaire (Rolf Lassgård) interested in supporting his charitable endeavors, we understand that this will be a most fatidic encounter, and that a series of intertwined decisions will cincture him like barbed wire.  He will endure a lot of soul-searching before he either accepts or recants the devilish proposal laid out before him, and these trials and tribulations will compose the suet of the film’s pudding.  If you are very familiar with these sorts of films, you will know something else: that Jacob has a secret or two, as does the Mephistophelian robber baron who tasks him with an ethical quandary.  I am loath to reveal even the first of these twists as it may lead you to derive the last of them, which would preclude sitting through to the rather melodramatic end.  There is value in these moral adventures, not because instantiating shame in all of us is necessarily art’s concern, but because meticulous casting and a strong epicenter (Jacob) allow us to see how a good man can reflect on his life, admit his mistakes, and become in some ways even better.  And the wedding in the title?  That would feature the billionaire’s twenty-year-old daughter (Stine Fischer Christensen) and one of his business protégés.  They don’t really need to get married to propel the plot forward, but, in addition to being a rather harmless contrivance, it does shed some light on a couple of characters.  And just as much takes place before the nuptials as after, which leads Jacob to do something he hasn’t done in over twenty years, but he's a better man for it.  And in his case that is saying a great deal indeed.

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