Viewer’s Discretion: ‘Herrens Veje’ and ‘First Reformed’

herensveje

HERRENS VEJE’ (‘RIDE UPON THE STORM’) (NETFLIX) Series creator Adam Price previously gave the world the infectious and intelligent show “Borgen,” which portrayed the fictional first woman prime minister and launched the international career of actress Sidse Babett Knudsen. Here he takes the same attention to detail he showed to Danish politics and applies it to the Church of Denmark, wrapping it into a family drama that’s intense and insightful.

Raging, haunted vicar Johannes Krogh (Lars Mikkelson) has a history of service to the church and paintings of his ancestors adorn the rectory watching over him with stern gazes. An alcoholic fit to rages and self-righteousness, he attempts to exact control over his own family, which has caused hostility and estrangement with his ne’er do well son Christian (Simon Sears ), while younger son August (Morten Hee Andersen ) is becoming a superstar priest within the church. His patient wife, Elizabeth (Ann Eleonora J rgensen), can barely hold in check the hurricane that is brewing within her and is largely held in her role because of sympathy for the broken Johannes that hides behind the monster.

But the family is about to be tested, hit hard with tragedy and transformation where the roles they’ve drifted into are questioned and their intentions in consigning themselves to these paths may require some leaps of faith that threaten to hurt other people — or maybe heal them. That, Price seems to posit, is part of what faith is about. Uncertainty is key.

Even as Price moves through the family drama, he also brings into the mix church politics as he examines the changing face of faith and how churches confront this behind the scenes — the Church of Denmark, it turns out, is a lot more liberal than any Christian church in the United States, and it’s fascinating to see how it works with secular approaches to its own faith. Islam is also intelligently portrayed, and I’d say one aspect of the show gives one of the best screen representations of Muslim parents I have ever seen. Price looks at the big picture of faith, and offering Biblical parallels, is not averse to visions that take the audience both inside the characters’ minds and outside our physical reality.

There are good performances all around, but Mikkelson is the crucial glue that holds it all together. Familiar to American audiences through his role in “House of Cards,” Mikkelson sees Johannes as the role of a lifetime and embraces it. One moment a frightening monster of rage, the next a pathetic soul, and then the next a magnetic, passionate, and wise figure of confidence, Mikkelson offers a complex, multi-faceted performance with an intense twinkle in his eye that draws you in and helps you understand why people are drawn to this difficult man.

‘FIRST REFORMED’ (AMAZON, APPLE, GOOGLE PLAY, VUDU, YOUTUBE)

The wounded-male narrative of the recent “Joker” movie probably couldn’t have existed without Paul Schrader who, as the writer of films like “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull” practically created the genre of destructive masculinity grappling with darkness, and this 2018 film shows that while he’s lost none of his intensity — I wouldn’t want to sit next to him at a dinner party — he’s evolved in the way he portrays the trope he perfected.

The always-interesting Ethan Hawke stars as the Rev. Toller, who oversees a small historic church in upstate New York that is under the financial purview of a local mega-church. Toller is asked by one of his parishioners to talk with her husband, who she says is having a difficult time, but when he does, he is drawn personally into the man’s distress, both the feeling of it and the source of it, and begins to connect on a deeper emotional level with the woman.

Much of the wider tension in the film revolves around climate change, presented in apocalyptic terms, and the idea of sacrifice for the greater good. Schrader brings the ecological disaster in line with concepts of corruption of the soul and disease-ravaged human bodies and examines a modern consumer-focused, capitalist Christianity with those ideas in mind.

It’s a heady and brooding film, to be sure, but Hawke’s performance, exuding kindness as penance with a forced sober face meant to hide the pain that is barreling through his body, helps the abstract aspects coalesce in deeply moving human terms.


Originally published at https://www.berkshireeagle.com on October 11, 2019.

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