I watched ‘The Bothersome Man’ (‘Den brysomme mannen’), directed by Jens Lien, quite a while ago, but it stuck with me. These are just my thoughts on it, not a conventional review. (Contains spoilers)
I was impressed by the way the film’s surrealism juxtaposed the very deliberately superficial depiction of reality. The satirical element of the film appears almost to exaggerate the day-to-day monotony of both professional and domestic routine, transforming emotional coldness into emotionlessness, the characters’ wants into complete materialism, and rendering human functions such as eating, drinking and fornication into meaninglessness tasks without pleasure, but with an acknowledgement of the idea of what ‘pleasure’ may be. This would seem to counteract the ideals of hedonism, but actually it appears to depict that the character’s are in fact extremely hedonistic; seeking beauty and luxuries, but that they have merely lost the ideas of what values lie beneath things…the characters seem so preoccupied with the idea of pleasure that they have forgotten what it is to feel it.
This reflects a lot of my own thoughts about reality; that everything is just an idea, and we apply our own meanings, which exist in a rather arbitrary function.
The main character, upon arriving in the city by bus with no memory of how he got there, has his new life laid out before him. Initially the perspectives and reactions of those around him have an impact on him; their normalising of the situation in which he finds himself. He is befuddled into compliance. They introduce him to his new job, apartment, and whole life, plaguing him with inquiries as to his level of comfort, offering him further materialistic elements to assist in his settling in; coffee, more breaks at work, a better desk chair perhaps?
Every piece of dialogue from the characters representing the majority consists of small-talk; what sofa would look nice in our living room? Isn’t that nice? The main character mentions a dream he had to his newfound wife, his attempts at emotional connection obvious, and she silences him as if offended. He realises that he is very different from those around him, all but the man he heard early on talking about how everything tasted of nothing when it once had, and so he seeks this man, finally understanding the implications of his words.
The main character even deliberately instigates an affair, cheating on his wife with a colleague as much in desperate want of emotional connection and passion as to induce negative variants of such in his wife. He realises that both the subject of his affair and his spouse have no real emotion whatsoever, merely complacency and ambivalence.
The parts I found most comical included the lack of sufficient emotional response from his wife; for example, when he informs her he is leaving her and she replies with ‘But we have a dinner party on Saturday, are you leaving before then?’ and when he tells her he is in love with somebody else she merely says ‘Why?’ her face blank as she sips tasteless wine. But the most hilarious of all was after he attempted suicide on the train tracks, but impossibly fails, and is driven home by the mysterious caretakers of the city. He enters, one eye completely crushed, his entire flesh coated with blood and injury, and she gazes at him as if blind to it all and inquires whether he would like to go Go-Carting on Saturday, ‘That would be wonderful’ he breathes helplessly.
I think the reason he was able to find pleasure by the end of the film, which was depicted by him stealing a slice of real cake with real taste from beyond the city, is because he retained a memory of what pleasure really was, the meaning behind it and the feeling, as oppose to merely the idea of it. His escape from the ‘reality’ of the city was through a lot of hardship, for which he required stamina, something the male who spoke of tastelessness in the beginning did not have. One of the ‘morals’ of the tale was that having everything you ‘need’ materially, is not the same as having emotional experiences and ideals, and that real happiness cannot come merely from owning an expensive apartment with attractive interior design, and being able to afford luxuries. So in essence, the film informs the viewer that the hardships and struggles in life are necessary to obtain happiness, rather than clinging to false ideas of perfection.
At one part of the film a man is shown impaled on an iron fence, having committed suicide by jumping from a window. The main character stares with fascination as pedestrians walk by unaffected, and the caretakers of the city approach to remove the body. As they remove him from the fence his intestines slide from his body onto the path, this added gore is not for the sake of ‘horror’, but instead truth, and the obliviousness of the pedestrians is almost deliberate, as if they see only what they want to see, which in many ways reflect the world you and I live in. If there is a suicide on a tube the announcement heard is never ‘We are sorry, there is a delay because sometimes decided they want out of this shit hole so they threw their body in front of the train, allowing it to be crushed to death’, instead it’s usually ‘We are sorry, there is a delay due to a fatality at Holborn’ and then the staff scrub up the blood and carry away the body parts, so as not to offend all of our innocent eyes. This is not a perfect world and it never will be…perfection can never exist because it exists in so many forms in so many minds, and there is no way to please everybody. Perfection is just an idea.
The world just agrees to a set of codes used for communication, a set of rules used for social acceptability and ideals that can be commonly shared…anyone deviating from these will be punished, ridiculed or declared insane (or at least ‘weird’).
If only we could all just be aware of how truly absurd everything is, we could all live much more harmoniously with one another. I am aware completely of the pointlessness of life, yet I still do things knowing that, because no matter what I do or do not do it will not change the facts. Everyone works to live and lives to work, we surrender to human bodily function every time we eat, drink or go to the toilet. Cleaning the dishes means they will be dirtied again and washed again in a cycle that can only be broken if you either do not use dishes or you employ a cleaner to do it for you. Everything is a cycle; not just the cycles of the moon or women’s menstruation, but life itself: Be born, live, reproduce, die. We are no different to those dirty dishes really. I am grateful to all those who choose not to reproduce, or who break the cycle or at least to become aware that it is a cycle. That is not to say that everyone who does otherwise is not aware, maybe they are.
The body sleeps so as to absorb the hours that came before, to process them in the mind so that one may accept and deal with them accordingly, waking more readily to a new day than they would have if they never slept at all. Sleep is like blackmail, we can choose to be insomniacs, but the brain will shut itself down in whatever ways it automatically needs to in order to function. Why do you think genuine insomniacs have so much trouble? Or why do you think troubled people sometimes can’t sleep? Dolphins on the other hand are technically schizophrenic to some extent, being that they never sleep because the left side of the brain sleeps whilst the right is active, and vice versa. It could be argued that they have a better way of functioning.
We are practically staying awake so we can sleep, and sleeping so we can wake. We are born so we can live, and we live so we can die. I say ‘so’ we can, not to insinuate that there is a purpose to each, but that there is a function, we are built to function and that is all. Becoming catatonic wont help, you will still be functioning. In a coma or on life support you are still functional, and there is really nothing at all you can do about it except to eradicate your own existence…but is that not just as pointless as existing? That is, of course, assuming you believe there is nothing beyond life. I do not think there is anything beyond it, and I hope not.
One could touch upon a great deal of philosophical or ideological arguments here; bring in religion, as so many tend to do, perhaps. But my writing this is based on the supposition that there is no God, and no magic or wizardry, no life beyond this, and no past lives either.