Producers: Eva Jakobsen, Katrin Pors and Mikkel Jersin Director: Jonas Alexander Arnby Screenplay: Rasmus Birch Cast: Nicolaj Coster-Waldau, Tuva Novotny, Robert Aramayo, Jan Bijvoet, Solbjørg Højfeldt, Sonja Richter, Lorraine Hilton, Slimane Dazi, Johanna Wokalek, Kaya Wilkins and Kate Ashfield Distributor: Screen Media
Originally titled “Selvmords Turisten” or “Suicide Tourist,” Jonas Alexander Arnby’s Danish film could be classified as science-fiction, but with pretensions to being an existential fable about the inevitability of death and how one chooses to address it.
The protagonist is Max (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau, suppressing any hint of charisma beneath glasses, a bushy moustache and a perpetually downbeat manner), an insurance adjustor who has just learned that his brain tumor is inoperable. He finds it difficult to share his feelings with his loving wife Laerke (Tuva Novotny), and plans instead to commit suicide; but his attempts prove inept, and he survives.
An alternative is provided, however, by his business contact with Alice Dineson (Sonja Richter), a client whose husband has disappeared but, because his death hasn’t been proven, can’t be paid on his policy. She shows Max a video she’s just received, in which her husband explains that he has gone to a remote facility in the far north called the Aurora (from which the aurora borealis is visible), which specializes in providing the most progressive methods of assisted suicide; it is the man’s final farewell, the same sort of message we see Max delivering in a prologue.
Max is naturally fascinated by the Aurora, and before long he had arranged to be transported there aboard the private plane of the company that runs the place. He and the other guests are treated with the utmost kindness, but also with rigorous protocol: they’re given special clothes, including a pair of striped pajamas, and reminded of their pledge not to leave. Once admitted, they are required to see the process through.
Much of what follows consists of conversations Max has with his personal handler Karen (Solbjørg Højfeldt) and other staff members at the Aurora (including Jan Bijvoet as the more peremptory Frank), as well as with fellow patients (most notably Robert Aramayo’s determined Ari and Lorraine Hilton’s jittery Jenny) also preparing their own personal modes of departure. These are more self-important dialogues than genuinely illumination disquisitions on life and death, but they induce Max to reconsider his original decision and attempt an escape.
Perhaps this would be more affecting if the performances were less mannered, with Coster-Waldau working so hard to shed a strong persona that he comes across as simply drab. Most of the other cast members go through their paces without much energy too, although Novotny adds a jolt of vibrancy as Max’s supportive spouse.
But if the script and performances in Arnby’s film leave a good deal to be desired, it’s undeniable that visually it’s extremely impressive. Simone Grau Roney’s production design is outstanding, the Aurora breathtaking in outside shots and starkly sterile in interior ones. Niels Thastum’s cinematography is equally evocative.
Overall, however, the film is disappointingly thin in terms of intellectual substance, and when it apparently tries for black humor (as in Max’s suicide attempts, with a surprisingly flat scene, played too deadpan by half, when he inquires of a store worker how to tie a noose from a string of cord, volunteering his own weight as to the poundage it will have to bear), it comes up distinctly short in comparison with similar scenes in other films. (See, for example, the Swedish comedy-drama “A Man Called Ove.”) And in the more dramatic material Arnby’s deliberate pace and Yorgos Mavropsaridis’ solemn editing frequently let things go slack. Mikkel Hess’ curiously tinkling score is no help in establishing a consistent mood.
This is the sort of film one might respect in the abstract, but given its emotional chilliness (as well as the snowy setting of the Aurora), it’s certainly difficult to warm up to. Even in home viewing, you might want to keep in mind the old pre-show theatrical admonition to be aware of the nearest exit.