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In a Better World

The Danish film "In a Better World" by director Susanne Bier may be considered an absolutely exceptional drama. In these 113 minutes of the movie, she treats current issues such as bullying, violence, friendship, but also revenge, embedded in a realistically told story that actually could be happening.

The Plot

The protagonist of "In a Better World" is the Swedish Doctor Anton, who regularly works in a refugee camp in Sudan. Because of his frequent absence from home, and a bad relationship with marital fidelity, he now lives separated from his wife and even a divorce has become a possibility. His absence is more painful for his son Elias than for his wife. He needed much more from his father than the regular contact via Skype. Because the boy suffers not only from the separation of their parents, he is also bullied at school, where he is insulted by his classmates and called "rat face."

The situation changes for Elias when a new classmate Christian joins his class. The "Newbie" lives with his widowed father. Subliminal he holds his father accountable for the death of the mother. Christian is the only one who dares to stand up against Elias tormentors: One day, Christian observed how the ringleader of the bullies followed Elias to the toilet. In response, he attacks the boy, hits him over the head with a bicycle pump and holds a knife at his throat to force the guy to leave Elias in peace in the future. When the police arrive, Elias and Christian deny that the other boy was threatened with a knife. This experience brought Elias and Christian closer together, and they become friends.

The situation escalates

When Elias's little brother has a fight with another child, the situation comes to a head: Father Anton, who was currently in town, separated the brawlers. However, he is slapped by the other boys father. Elias and Christian cannot understand why he would take that. Anton tries to hold the other one responsible but only gets another slapping.

Especially Christian, who projected the hatred of his own father onto these people, is set for revenge. In the workshop of his grandfather, he finds fireworks and plots to build a bomb to blow up the car of the assailant. This, in turn, gets Elias into a moral conflict, which almost ends this friendship. Because Anton is already back in Africa, he cannot help Elias in his dilemma; finally, Elias agrees to Christians plan. When the bomb ignites, Elias is seriously injured. Christian wanted to visit his friend in the hospital but was not allowed to see Elias. He wants to commit suicide. Literally at the last moment, he is saved. Christian reconciles with his father.

A neutral perspective

“In a better world” lives from the neutral viewpoint, from which Susanne Bier tells the story. She does not evaluate and keeps her subjective opinion on the sidelines. This compels the viewer to confront the moral issues of the film himself. Not only the narrative but also the excellent screenplay and great camera work make this work an outstanding film. Because the exciting story contrasted with the almost idyllic images makes it, even more, possible for the narrative to really get under the viewers’ skin.

Implementation for youth work

The film is very complex, yet, addresses several issues which you can discuss with young people.

The central themes:

  • Bullying: being bullied, another helps the victim and responses with counter-violence.

  • Friendship: no one blows the whistle on the other, both stick to each other, no matter what. Together you go through thick and thin.

  • Provocation and followers: out of fear of losing his friend he goes along, even if you have a bad feeling about this.

  • Hate: blind fury and hatred led to actions whose consequences are hard to foresee.

Other topics:

  • Parents: no time for the children, although the children want someone to talk. The children feel alone and abandoned.

  • Violence: Violence begets violence

  • Conviction: Elias’ father waived violence. Nevertheless, he left the fight but let the mob deal with the attacker.

All in all, a stunning movie. I am sure that many young people can discover and describe one or the other of these previously mentioned topics where they can see themselves.

Questions to start a discussion:

  • What was particularly impressive about the film and why?

  • What could you best understand (empathize)?

  • Were there scenes and situations in the film, which you have already experienced it in a similar way?

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