Official Blog of the Bishop of Durham

Book of Job at the Movies – Adam’s Apples

Posted by NT Wrong on October 25, 2008

I recently watched Adam’s Apples (Danish: Adams Aebler) on DVD.

It annoyed and provoked me — and mainly because of its overly tidy and artificially well resolved ending. In fact, I found the tidy resolution even more annoying and provocative than if the ending had been unresolved. But I strongly suspect, without being entirely sure, that this was its intended effect.

The film begins with a neo-Nazi skinhead arriving at the rural church of Pastor Ivan, in order to complete his community service. Pastor Ivan also looks after Saudi Arabian service-station robber Kazim, obese alcoholic sexually deviant former tennis pro Bro, and Steen, a woman pregnant with a deformed child. Pastor Ivan’s methods are highly unconventional. The neo-Nazi skinhead, whose name is Adam, is asked what he would like to do during his stay. Sarcastically, he replies that he would like to bake an apple pie. Unexpectedly for him, this becomes his assigned task and central to the overall plot of the film.

It gradually unfolds that, despite his insanely cheerful and positive demeanor, and almost pathological tendency to only see the good in life, Ivan is afflicted with a great number of tragic and awful maladies and afflictions — including personal illness, the death or incapacity of his most loved ones, being a victim of sexual abuse in his childhood, and even plagues of Hitchcock-like if not biblical proportions. Ivan also receives brutal and violent physical and mental abuse at the hands of (and boots of) Adam, which compounds the problems he is apparently suppressing.

The film proceeds in a deadpan absurdist style which contrasts with Ivan’s apparent insanity and the other characters’ volitility and violence. Yet at the same time, the film poses some very dark and disturbing questions: is it the Devil who is afflicting Ivan or is it God himself? is faith merely wilful blindness and near-psychosis? can people really change? and, most pressingly, is suffering and pain an inevitability which is unable to be overcome in life?

These questions remain uncertain and unanswered for most of the length of the film, before receiving a fairly glib and tidy resolution at the end of the film. This was annoying to me at first reflection, and from a survey of the film’s various reviews, it has been viewed as a weakness of the film. That is, having painted a twisted and desperate picture of life’s vicissitudes, in the end the film glosses over these realistic complexities of life for an easy (and quite unrealistic) resolution.

But the film would be merely annoying and unsatisfying if it weren’t for its subtle intertextuality with the Book of Job. I say ‘subtle’ — but there is the fact that every time the bells are rung at the small county church, the walls shake, Adam’s framed picture of Adolf Hitler falls from the wall, and the bible which Ivan gave to Adam falls off the dresser onto the floor, opening each time at the Book of Job. And then there’s the plot of the film…

But what is perhaps subtle about the intertextual reference is the glib ending. With the Book of Job in mind, the unsatisfyingly resolved ending is not only untrue to life, but it mimics the Book of Job’s own glib and unsatisfying ending. As in Job, this doesn’t allow us to say ‘ah — everything’s alright in the end’. To the contrary, the very glibness causes us to continue to grapple with the questions which have never been properly addressed throughout the story. Like Hitchcock’s Birds, which it references, everything is resolved yet nothing is resolved. The unusual consequence of this intertextual reading — with Job, and with Hitchcock — is that it causes me to focus on the questions rather than on the answers. It is as though the answers are too easily delivered, and therefore must be distrusted.

I admit I first saw this as an unintended consequence. The disjuncture between the unresolvable suffering of life and its unrealistic resolution still caused me to question the unrealistic resolution, but I now wonder whether this effect is intended. In its easy yet unrealistic explanation of life, the film manages to create a deeper and more realistic sense of nihilism than if it had merely delivered an unresolved plot. And even if the director hadn’t intended such an interpretation, reading the film with the Book of Job as intertext makes it something darker than a straightforward narrative of redemption.

But the parallel to the plot ‘resolution’ in the Book of Job is too close to be coincidental. Watching Adam’s Apple as an intertext with the Book of Job makes me conclude that this ‘unintended consequence’ is quite intended. That is, the very unrealistic resolution of the film, with its own Joban theophany and reversal of fortunes, makes it likely that the film’s neat and tidy resolution is an ironic questioning of the unresolved suffering of ‘real’ life. The lack of realism at the end of Adam’s Apples, rather than the mystery and complexity of its middle, is the most potent means by which it conveys the mystery and complexity of evil.

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