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In a Better World


Year: 2010 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 (Scope) 
Certificate: BBFC 15 Cert – Not suitable for under 15s 
Subtitles: It is expected that this film is fully subtitled. 
Directed by Susanne Bier 
Starring: Mikael Persbrandt, Trine Dyrholm, Markus Rygaard, Ulrich Thomsen  
An image from In a Better World

Young Elias is the son of a failing marriage. His dad, Anton, spends most of his time as a doctor in a Sudanese refugee camp. In Denmark, Elias is bullied until newcomer from London, Christian, steps in to defend him and fight back. The friendship between the two boys grows stronger and, while Elias still loves his dad, he stops looking to him as a role model.

In a Better World tackles the difficult question of right and wrong head-on: when should one stand up to others? To what extremes is it appropriate to go? Can a doctor give over a clearly evil war chief to a lynching mob? Where do Anton's duties lie - are they with his family, or in the refugee camp?

To achieve such thematic complexity, the film uses echoing, parallel stories. The Sudanese story, harrowing though it is, is not central to the characters: it serves more as a justification for Anton's contrasting mildness. It also adds geographical distance to emotional distance and explains why Elias simply latches on to Christian. The depth brought to each of the characters through such devices is staggering and, even though they mean a slow start to the film, they make the viewer feel like they actually know the two boys and like they can understand their rather extreme actions.

What the film puts to us is that it would already be a better world if we could know what the proper course of action is. This appears cleverly through the plot but also through a highly contrasted photography which adds to the emotional frustration of not knowing what is right.

With an Academy Award thoroughly deserved, In a Better World does not make for easy viewing, but is endearing, challenging, and to an extent, life-changing.

Pierre Schramm

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Screenings of this film:

2011/2012 Autumn Term (35mm)