TIFF Report: Adam's Apples

Founder and Editor; Toronto, Canada (@AnarchistTodd)


As any regular reader of this site will know I am a big fan of Denmark's Anders Thomas Jensen. The hugely prolific writer has been involved in most of the major Scandanavian films of the past decade, has maintained a staggering level of quality across his many genre hopping films, and is now increasingly turning his eye towards the director's chair. Jensen had a pair of film's present in last year's edition of the Toronto Film Festival – the absolutely spectacular Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself, which he wrote, and the very strong Green Butchers, which he both wrote and directed – and so I was greatly pleased and not at all surprised to see that his latest was slated to appear this time out.

As you might expect from the title Adam's Apples has some rather metaphysical leanings tied in to the normal Jensen blend of existentialism, absurdism, and jet black comedy. While he has flirted with religious ideas in the past with Adam's Apples Jensen moves well beyond batting eyelids at the spiritual and goes ahead and invites God home for a drink or two while he slips into something more comfortable.

Adam Pedersen is a neo-nazi skinhead just released from a stint in prison and assigned to live with a minister – Ivan, played by the always solid Mads Mikkelson - in a remote country church. Initially the two seem to fit right into their respective stock molds but it soon becomes apparent that Ivan is more than a little eccentric. He has a way of blandly brushing aside any sort of hostility as if it wasn't even there, is inordinately proud of the apple tree on the church grounds, and expresses dismay that someone has included a note that Adam is “evil" in his prison records, that dismay not because Adam might actually BE evil but because it seems terribly rude to say so on a person's CV. When Ivan gives Adam free reign to choose his work while at the church, Adam facetiously suggests that he would like to bake a cake with the apples from the church's apple tree. Ivan, the walking curiosity is rapidly proving himself to be, immediately agrees that this is an excellent idea.

Adam's Apples begins as a standard culture clash comedy with the skinhead and the priest joined at the church by an alcoholic, ex-rapist, washed up former tennis player played by Nicolas Bro – and anybody who's seen Bro knows why this is funny – and a Saudi man convicted of holding up convenience stores. But, this being a Jensen film, it does not remain at all ‘standard' for long. When a flock of crows descends on the apple tree Ivan declares that Adam's resolve is being tested by the devil, a situation initially played for comedy, and we quickly come to realize that Ivan's religious convictions run deep and serve to mask a troubling past. Throw a biblical plague or two, outbursts of racial violence and an honest to goodness sign from heaven and a heavy reliance on the book of Job into the mix and you have a film that aims to entertain while looking seriously at the problem of good and evil and the nature of faith.

That Ivan is meant as a stand in for Job quickly becomes clear enough. That Adam is, well, Adam and the churchyard Eden is also quite obvious. But what do you make of a film that clearly takes the existence of God seriously but which casts the only true believer of the lot as a man with some serious mental health problems? The answer dropped a few hours after viewing the film and the key lies, of course, with the apples. The fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam and Ivan stand as polar opposites at the beginning of the film, a true Yin and Yang. Ivan has deliberately blinded himself to the presence of evil in any form. Adam has utterly rejected goodness. Both are living half a life and need the knowledge the other has to truly become whole. Ivan needs to be broken down and accept the reality of his life and history while Adam needs to realize that there is truly good in the world and that it goodness does not equate to weakness. Interestingly Jensen also seems to assert that faith – any faith, no matter how poorly founded – is a powerful and necessary thing a position that came as something of a surprise.

Adam's Apples doesn't quite reach the heights of Jensen's finest work, its characters and situations are not as immediately engaging and entertaining as they have been elsewhere, but it is certainly in the upper echelon. My first reaction on leaving the theater was that this was a film I needed to see again to fully appreciate, one that would reward repeat viewing and close attention to detail. The characters have a tendency to be types more than they are people and Jensen tacks a thoroughly unnecessary epilogue onto the end of things but the film has plenty of heart, plenty of style, a fistful of solid laughs – including some shockingly non-politically correct lines dropped by the gruff local doctor – and a wealth of meaty ideas to sink your teeth into.

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