Day 9 of the Milwaukee Film Festival had me and the lovely Sarah head out to see a foreign film, Sons of Norway. We even got a bonus short film, “Family Nightmare”, which seemed to belabor the point it wanted to make, but given it was about family dysfunction it fit thematically.
Sons of Norway is a film about a father, Magnus (Sven Nordin) and one of his sons Nikolaj (Asmund Hoeg) coming to grips with the mother’s death in a hit and run accident. Given that the screenwriter’s name is Nikolaj who was a teenager in the late 1970s, I suspect that it’s autobiographical in some aspects. It’s fairly standard as far as that type of story goes, but it gains traction in going at it in a different way. The story is set in 1978/79 and punk is bursting on the scene, with the Sex Pistols being especially prominent. So much so that Johnny Rotten himself, John Lydon, makes an appearance. Much of the pleasure of the film is in seeing the authentic details of the period come to life.
Given his anger, becoming a punker becomes a natural way for Nikolaj to express his emotions. Or, it would be, if his father wasn’t an “accept all lifestyles”, peace loving, hippie communist who accepts every choice his son makes unconditionally. It’s hard to be rebellious when your father wants to join in on your punk band. But, in doing so, the father unwittingly prevents any sort of catharsis. In many ways, the film is making the point that anger can be a positive, purging emotion if it’s let out, which seems to be the film’s argument in favor of the punk movement.
I suppose that’s contrasted with the hippie tendencies of Magnus. He’s so wrapped up in his own feelings that he doesn’t have any answers to his son’s problems other than unconditional acceptance. Dragging his son along to a nudist camp may seem fun to Magnus, but all it does is make his son uncomfortable and it’s a substitute for actually talking to him. Nikolaj really needs an outlet, not to be told everything’s all right when his mother is dead. A little practicality, which we’re briefly shown was provided by the mother, would go a long ways.
Sons of Norway is quirky, gets at some interesting issues, and has a fun soundtrack. You just wish that it took on some of its issues more directly. Instead, most of the conflict between the father and son is just bottled up and the catharsis kind of fizzles out. Perhaps that’s the point, punk had its heyday and then faded, but in the end it’s a little underwhelming. Which sums up the movie as a whole, a lot of good ideas and some fine performances, but not quite coming together in an entirely satisfying way.