Douglas Bastard's Rants of Rage


This article was written on 21 Jun 2016, and is filled under Uncategorised.

The Bothersome Man

‘The Bothersome Man’ is a film of understated genius. It’s Norwegian, has subtitles and is as darkly comic as anything before or since. This blog contains spoilers so, if you want to treat yourself to an hour and a half of the best filmic entertainment ever committed to celluloid, go and get some tasty snacks, lay your hands on a copy and enjoy. Then come back, read this and see if you agree. And I will be amazed to the roots of my ears if you don’t.

At the start of the film, we see the main character on a platform, waiting for an underground train. We see, and hear, a couple snogging with noisy, deep-tongued intensity that is in no way matched by their body language. Instead, they both stare off into space, seemingly detached from what their mouths are doing and the noisy tongue carnival that echoes down the platform. The central character despairs, and then throws himself beneath the incoming train.

Not exactly the stuff of comedy, no matter how dark. But what happens next is told with an eye for the absurd. He wakes to find himself on a bus, as the only passenger, heading for the only stop, a shack outside of which a man laboriously hangs a welcome banner and then drives him into the unnamed city and his new flat. The following day, he has a job interview, and starts work. It seems he has been given a second chance, but it soon becomes clear that the second chance is not what we might hope it is.

The world he now lives in is supremely controlled. Everyone wears tasteful, muted shades. Food and drink clearly tastes of nothing much and conversation deals with interiors and soft furnishings. There are no signs of poverty and the office in which he works is tasteful, not to say chic. Other characters’ houses are elegant and restrained, in the same muted pastel shades as everywhere and everything else and even when he has sex with the woman who becomes his girlfriend, there is no real passion or riot of carnal excess. They have sex, and she holds his sides, with vague interest.

Quite why the character is ‘bothersome’ is not hard to fathom. He notices things that other people seem at pains not to notice. He is seemingly the only person who sees that someone has jumped to a messy death on railings, spilling his entrails out over the pavement, tries to make conversation about something other than interior decor and is apparently the only person who feels a sense of alienation and dislocation from his perfect but anodyne surroundings. Everyone else seems utterly and inoffensively content.

If you’ve ever suffered from depression or felt in any way alienated from your surroundings, you’re in this film, right at the heart of it. Your bafflement that anyone cares enough about soft furnishings to talk about them at length is shared by the main character. His new life is littered with loveless, dull couplings that he would like to mean something, but which don’t seem to make much of an impact on the other protagonists. There are are endless dinner parties, held in near silence in perfect homes, that are distinguished only by their uniformity. Suffocating dullness prevails and he seems to be the only one suffocated.

This speaks to me, as there are times when I feel completely alienated from the people around me, convinced that I’m the only one who wants to scream that it’s all bollocks and that the people around you are all accustomed to their surroundings with a bovine indifference. Of course, we’re not. Many of them are probably thinking the same things but are also going along with it because it’s all that there is on offer which, in itself, is heartbreaking. But there’s also another reason why the film speaks to me and discomforts me in equal measure.

As a Norwegian film, it’s also a satire on Scandinavian comfort that you have to have experienced to understand. For a year and a half, I was working for a Danish company in Vejle, a small town south of Aarhus and a three hour train ride from Copenhagen. I worked hard at my job, which was to be creative but, in the end, was too creative and, it pains me to say, too erratic. One of the clients asked that I not work with them again because I kept coming up with ideas, which seems like the essence of working in a creative role but, apparently, isn’t. The town, or city, or whatever the benighted place is, looks a lot like the backdrop to The Bothersome Man and one Saturday when I was there and saw everyone blandly shopping, seemingly the whole town, made me want to run into the fjord screaming. Copenhagen is different, because it’s such a beautiful city and feels much more metropolitan but here, I was probably close to the real Denmark and it scared me half to death.

Towards the end of the film, the main character and a friend, a freakishly like mind, break through into what looks an awful lot like a room in Italy but which is probably supposed to be somewhere that simply isn’t Scandinavia. They spent days tunnelling towards a thin chink of light and finally, at the eleventh hour, succeed in getting just an arm through into the room, where they flail about vainly before being hauled back by the city authorities in a scene that perhaps shouldn’t be as heartbreaking as it is, but which always makes me want to weep uncontrollably.

Again, this is fairly close to having depression, which tends to show you, in moments of relapse, that  you may be able to find a way out of the Slough of Despond before slamming the door on hope again and consigning you to weeks more of despair. In The Bothersome Man, though, there is no respite and the film works its darkly comedic way to its bitter conclusion, with the anti-hero lost and isolated, far away from the city, seemingly with no hope of redemption. Sad piano music plays and the credits roll. Any pretence at comedy has gone by this stage and the end seems, to me at least, to be curiously devastating, up there with the lines at the end of ‘American Psycho’ which say, simply, that ‘this is not an exit.’

The Bothersome Man feels like more than just a diverting way to spend your an hour and a half of your life and to end up saying some fairly seismic things about the way that we live our lives. If the point of art is to make you think about the meaning of existence and, in this case, about how much it hurts sometimes, how much it breaks your heart and about how much of it is watching in helpless, awed wonder while things unfold in front of you, then this succeeds magnificently.

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