ACIDEMIC Journal of Film and Media

Editor's Note: "Icy, Remote, and Incomprehensible"

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Erich Kuersten


When we think of the North, where does our mind go? To frozen Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, Greenland, Canada, and the Arctic; to places named Helsinki, as if Hell wasn't sunken enough; to dim, bitter parts of Russia and Eastern Europe; to star system Alpha Bo÷tis and Aldebaran, and dim planets from the past.



We all know the feeling of sensing something unearthly about the people from these regions. They evolved from Vikings, a proud, tall, blonde tribe of cold-blooded murderers, for whom genocide, ethnic cleansing, and pillaging are nothing to get hung about. They swing axes and swap partners with casual disregard; they kill and pillage while displaying worldly disaffection; they drink to excess. Wouldn't you if daylight vanished for months at a stretch? A haven for vampires, alcoholics, draft dodgers, Americans needing to get away from the tedium of days, the north's winter nights extend into infinity, and perhaps the sudden violence, awesome rationalizations for binge drinking (it's never the morning after) and sexual freedom. It all stems from a fundamental depression, a season affective disorder so great it's crept into their DNA.

And most of all, they love silence... like owls waiting in the woods, for whom every crackle of a terrified mouse is like a melody. These are the remnants of the elder gods, from the Ice Age.
The cold murdering heart of the Nordics can be traced to the Vikings, the fearless marauders and their thunder gods, and to the legend of Sigfried, or in the Norse legend Sigurd, who loves Brynhld, the outcast Valkyre. But complications ensue, and Sigurd and Brynhld wind up married to a very earthbound set of siblings, Gunnar and Gudrun. With her true love at the table but denied her thanks to an upcoming marriage to Gunnar, Brynhld develops, as Patrick Harpur writes in his Daemonic Field Guide, a "cold and mirthless attitude, so alien to the worldly household, (that she) grows more icy, remote, and incomprehensible." (p. 265). Is that not the way of the Nordic? If this earthly marriage represents the castration of the social order, isn't the alienation of our daemonic soul energy the result of the Nordic propensity for icy remoteness?

Thus we have the roots not just of western civilization but its accompanying suppression of women, and of the chthonic energy that abounds in a film such as Von Trier's Antichrist. The steep price of denial of the Brynhld power, the spherical soul energy, leads inevitably to arctic chills. There are always pros and cons for each lifestyle choice, and the advantage of living the long winters is a freedom from the burden of making choices. The Nordic night short circuits our normal sense of light and dark - the ever-grayness of these regions makes them like a timeless dream. We can't even admit to ourselves how sick we are of night and day, day and night and day, over and over. But here in the non-Pacific Northwest states we are sick of it, on a deep existential level, let's face it, or we wouldn't be hiding out in the eternal cold darkness of the movies.



What we in the states believe from the popular culture, from the whole concept of the "Swedish film" and our own imaginations, is that the Northern guys are all asleep or misogynists and their chicks are way hot, educated, cool, blonde and fed up with their weak men. This is not reality I'm referring to (every Swede dude I know is alarmingly handsome and brilliant) but its warped mirror, the Scandinavia of our collective imagination where the dark and cold of the northern landscape mirrors the air-conditioned darkness of the cinema. Being half Swedish-American myself, I've never loved summer, nor the 'hot climate' films shot, say, in Brazil, like City of God. I respect them, enjoy them when I see them, but I don't long for them as I do for Bergman's black and white blonde close-ups. For us with Northern blood, the dark and the cold is like a friend; the long bitter endless night of winter means escaping the hamster wheel of 9-5 living as it goes rolling down the hill like a snowball; roads are closed and cops are slow to get on their long underwear; it's time to kill your tormentors, watch TV, have sex, and wander around in the dark in a drunken fog like Max Von Sydow in Passion of Anna (1963, top).  Even if you don't get to have an affair with Bibi Andersson, or you do and he or she leaves, you can still drink and pass out in the snow or get bit by a vampire or animal mutilator. Oh slow death by alcoholic and hematological causes, where is thy sting? In the neck, of course, and so much more.

Valhalla Rising publicity shot w. director
So come with us now, up to the Northern climes, for a soul-searching vacation, maybe falling in love with a sweet wondrous blonde-haired beauty we meet at the coffee bar, who brings us home and asks us to move in and lives with a bunch of cool friends who also speak English and they all appreciate our tortured artsy depths; they have connections and soon we're funded by the national endowments and AB Svensk Filmindustri. Our dark and evil heart is not "too dark" for them, nothing is too dark for them... they're death metal acolytes. They're vampires! They watch Bergman's Cries and Whispers for laughs. This is their story.

c. 2011 Acidemic

C. 2013 - Acidemic Journal of Film and Media - BFG LCS: 489042340244