Deliver Us from Evil. 2009. Directed & Written by Ole Borendal.
Starring Lasse Rimmer, Lene Nystrøm Rasted, Fanny Bornedal, Jacob Ottensten, Mogens Pedersen, Lone Lindorff, Jens Andersen, Pernille Vallentin, Bojan Navojec, Kim Kold, & Alexandre Willame.
Thura Film/Greta Film AB/Obel Film
Rated R. 100 minutes.
Ole Borendal is an underrated director-writer— both the Danish and English versions of his movie Nattevagten (aka Nightwatch) are fantastic movies in their own rights. He’s at his best when tackling issues of morality, often presented in neo-noir form. Such is the case of Deliver Us from Evil, doubling as a parable about the ways religion’s misused, even abused, by many, while those who aren’t devout believers of any faith can often be the most moral. Wrapped in that is also a condemnation of xenophobia and violent white nationalism.
Deliver Us from Evil was described in the Vancouver Sun as being the result “if Michael Haneke collaborated with the Coen Brothers,” and the description isn’t wrong. The plot’s a brutal mix of Greek tragedy and film noir, set in small town Denmark where white people don’t take to the Other – anybody non-white – and the middle class is loathed by the working class and the poor.
Borendal sticks to a philosophical look at morality— when and if we suspend our own morality in the face of the immorality of others. The Biblical themes and Christianity references aren’t just props, they push a discussion of what it means to be moral, regardless of which faith one follows, or if one even has faith at all.
Morality’s introduced by Pernille (Lene Nystrøm Rasted). She tells her children evil’s merely the lack or non-existence of good, in that many who commit bad deeds do so because of a lack of good in their lives. Curiously, her children ask if Osama bin Laden is loved. They keep on pushing when they don’t understand her moral view. Such a significant+brilliant opening.
More than that, the movie’s Narrator (Sonja Richter) – perfectly, she also emcees the big town celebration later – acts as Greek chorus for this tragedy. She starts by telling us “the road only leads forwards or backwards” in this town, opening up the various parallels of ideas re: good v. evil throughout— here, there are no in-betweens, no moral grey zones, everything’s seen as black or white, in more ways than one. Further Greek influence, coupled with the good/bad dichotomy: two brothers, each representative of opposite moral poles, whose moral worldviews propel the plot.
Amidst the other moral issues, the screenplay tackles small town xenophobia. Even people who aren’t actually black are called “negro.” Such as Alain (Boran Navojec), a Croatian who fled violent persecution in his country. Like in White America, long before Trump though exacerbated by his political arrival, the white characters of this little Danish town believe immigrants/refugees are taking all the jobs. This gives them a perceived excuse to act violently towards the Other. And just as in real life, often poor white proletarians like these people will even pin the blame for a crime on the Other falsely.
Fate’s an important aspect of Deliver Us from Evil, for a couple reasons. First, the discussion of fate ties into its view on religion. Like many aspects of religious faith, fate’s often used as a crutch. It’s a way for the religious to absolve themselves, by saying there’s a plan for God killing kids, letting women be raped, or any other number of horrors. The idea of fate lends itself to forgiveness, making people believe there’s nothing they can do in the face of fate and so the only option is to forgive. It also helps people absolve themselves of responsibility.
Second of all, an ironic moment occurs after Pernille – supposed devout Christian – leaves her husband Johannes (Lasse Rimmer) as the only one defending Alain, who’s wrongfully accused of running a woman over. She abandons her faith when tested, suggesting she was never truly Christian, only when it suits her. In this way, she and local reformed gangster Ingvar (Mogens Pedersen), whose wife was run over, are the same: ultimately only pretend Christians. When morality truly matters, they each let their faith fall by the wayside in lieu of self preservation. The irony comes when Pernille’s attacked and raped, and the one who saves her is Alain, who didn’t leave his morals behind.
Most ironic, however, is the fact Johannes isn’t outwardly devout. He displays more Christian behaviour than Ingvar or his wife. He has no connection, outside Pernille, to Christianity, and refuses to ignore his morality. He doesn’t require a system of faith in order to sway his morals. Pernille and Ingvar represent those who are only Christian in name, abusing their religion to relieve a burden of sin and avoid fully facing their own immorality.
Religion, in this context, is not unlike the xenophobia and white nationalism on display throughout Deliver Us from Evil. That is, how people use religion as a way of offsetting blame is sadly similar to how white people project their failures, fears, anxieties, and hatred onto the Other, as being their fault. Lars (Jens Andersen) is a perfectly nasty microcosm of the white man lashing out in wrong directions, as is the case in Europe and American currently the most it’s been in modern history since the 1960s. As we see with the predicament Johannes finds himself in not even the good bourgeois are safe from a violent, racist proletariat. When they’re saying it’s economic anxieties – sound familiar? – it’s surely not rooted in economics: it’s fucking racism.
One moment captures the general white racist sentiment we see ALL THE TIME re: refugees/immigrants. Ingvar says, about Alain fleeing his homeland and its violence: “If my house was on fire, I‘d damn well stay and put it out.” The same cowardly opinion heard today from whites about refugees fleeing the brutality of war and oppression in Syria, as well as other regions. Also shows the immaturity of racists, comparing a house fire to a thing as terrifying as genocide and perpetual war— false equivalency + heartlessly ignorant. Not just that, anybody truly Christian would open their arms to those in need. Yet another condemnation of fake Christians from a movie loaded with criticism geared at those who wield faith irresponsibly.
Borendal’s Deliver Us from Evil is thematically and visually a neo-noir – the excellent, atmospheric cinematography courtesy of Dan Laustsen (DP on The Shape of Water, Crimson Peak, Nightwatch and cinematographer for Silent Hill, Brotherhood of the Wolf and more) – that questions when and where morality’s suspended or exerted, as well as tensely evaluates how people use+abuse their religious faith.
This movie’s one hell of a tough ride, and it only gets more difficult to handle as the plot wears on. Although the graphic moments are few, the ones we do get land with a lot of weight. Borendal doesn’t focus so much on the blood or the violence itself, but rather the causes of those, and in this story they’re just like life: religion and white hatred.
What leaves Father Gore with such a lasting feeling is that the Narrator closes the movie with a simple “That‘s it.” There is no Greek chorus message, nothing telling us what the moral was exactly. We’re left to decipher it ourselves. Many of us will see it differently, depending on our respective point of views. But that doesn’t change the fact that, for 100 minutes, Borendal showed us the brutal nature of flawed human morality.