Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Together

2000, 102 minutes, comedy-drama, directed by Lukas Moodysson, Sweden
The more I think about Together the more it seems fair to categorize it as a story of adults becoming—well, adults. It’s a sort of coming-of-age story in which characters stumble into true adulthood by having life experiences, rather than being thrust into it by trauma or disillusionment—although trauma and disillusionment are part of the story.

When Elizabeth flees her abusive husband she and her two children join her younger brother Goren at Together, his Stockholm commune. It’s 1975 and the air is charged with radical politics, feminism, and sexual experimentation. You can see the jokes coming. At one point Goren explains the philosophy of Together to Elizabeth’s children, Eva and Stefan, while he stirs a pot of gooey porridge, “You could say that we’re like porridge. First we’re like a small oat flake—small, dry, fragile, alone. But then we’re cooked with other oat flakes and become soft. We join so that one flake can’t be told apart from the other. We’re almost dissolved. Together we become a big porridge that’s warm, tasty and nutritious…and yes, quite beautiful too.” There’s the ultra-doctrinaire couple who condemn Pippi Longstocking as a capitalist and a materialist. Instead of playing cops and robbers, the kids play Pinochet and torture victim. And on it goes. I have a soft spot for counterculture parodies and I’m predisposed to like anything that sends up smug, wannabe revolutionaries. On this count Together doesn’t disappoint, but what makes this movie stand out from other counterculture parodies is that it’s much more than just a counterculture parody (which there’s already plenty of, anyway). Writer-director Lukas Moodysson gives the characters real depth and dimension and the subtle and nuanced performances he gets from his actors makes us realize that most of them are more than the sum of their silly pontificating and posturing.

Interwoven in Together are glimpses into the lives of the commune’s stuffy neighbors whose stilted marriage drives the man to redefine the term “woodworking” in a way that you’ll just have to see the movie to understand. We’re also introduced to Birger, a desperately lonely many who befriends Elizabeth’s jettisoned husband. Birger pines for his impoverished youth in which he and his farmhand parents shared a two-room dwelling with eighteen other people. “Better to eat porridge together, than a pork cutlet alone,” he says. Now that’s lonely. When mainstream culture is this atomized and sterile you can feel sympathy for the Toghetherites attempts—no matter how ham-fisted—to find an alternative.

In a way it’s Eva, Elizabeth’s thirteen-year-old daughter who’s the anchor of the film. She’s a smart and sensitive kid who sees through to the emptiness that the members of Together are trying to fill with slogan politics and contrived intimacy. You know that she’ll eventually wind up with a therapist who’ll explain the concept of the “identified patient” to her. Eva also sees the intellectual vacuity in the knee-jerk rejection of everything mainstream and the wholesale acceptance of anything with a whiff of the alternative to it. Basically, she’s on to the adults.

Yet, this is a coming-of-age story and the characters change and grow in believable ways. As the movie goes on you see them gradually trade in their pre-fab identities for real ones, which are what they are for all of us: a patchwork of beliefs, preferences, quirks, and values that's generally incompatible with dogma. It’s not that they’ve abandoned the counterculture, it’s that they’ve ceased to be circumscribed by it. Moodysson has done such a good job in drawing his characters that I don’t begrudge them the saccharine sweetness of the giddy soccer game that makes up the last scene. They’re entitled to it and I know it won’t last.

5 comments:

Kirk Johnson said...

I remember this one, and I think you've got it exactly right. I watched Moodysson's Lilja 4-Ever right around the same time, and recall it as a much harsher story -- plenty of trauma -- but equally on the ground. I'm not sure anything he's done since has made it out of Sweden.

Leopold said...

Of Swedish squid.

THE KRAKEN

Below the thunders of the upper deep,
Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides; above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height; And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous and secret cell
Unnumber'd and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the lumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages, and will lie
Battening upon huge sea-worms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.

--Tennyson

FlickFlake said...

I don't think so either. I checked him out on imdb and he's made a ton of movies.

FlickFlake said...

That's great, Leo. Thanks. I've always loved the Cephalopod School of poetry.

Zolma said...

counterculture parody? maybe. true to life if you've been there and done that. no other movie i've seen has brought the commune-collective experience so realistically to the screen. makes me wince. and pine. i can't watch this movie without feeling a yearning for youthful viewpoint and wondering "what if." while the idealism and experimental viewpoints appear hopeless, in the end, they express something that we all want and it doesn't go away with time, as embodied in Birger. the children and their unlikely playmates. the coupling. what if "the barriers" actually were less in place is the question i am left with.