Something Misbegotten in the City of Copenhagen

2 Oct 2013: Pusher (DVD, 1996, Nicolas Winding Refn)

The milieux and the characters and the storyline are all pretty familiar, even if this time they’re located in Denmark, but there’s enough of a visual flair and a sense of quotidian life on offer that what could very well (and perhaps does) come across as hackneyed instead crackles a bit, like a defibrillated dead horse… with a bit in its mouth. The salient features of this otherwise derivative drug-dealer-needs-money movie include a Michael-Mannish attention to lighting and modern spaces (red and blue compositions, pulsating dance clubs), an active handheld camera that vigorously pans across contiguously unfolding action without shaking too nervously or being edited into nauseating mal-de-cinémer, an intelligent sardonic-Nordic gallows humor that exaggerates and distinguishes characters effectively (e.g. trying to pass off lactose as heroin for laughs, then having the real thing turn out to be baking soda) without reducing them entirely to filmtrope clichés, and a final twist that gives someone unexpected the last laugh for a change. Refn ends up playing with notions of machismo and conventional violence by making them ultimately much more pathetic than simply failed or doomed for retribution: the misogynistic psychological displacement, the turning in a moment against all of one’s friends and business associates, the isolation of oneself from emotion and conversation out of juvenile masculine standoffishness, the inability to strategize or think through consequences or alternatives, all of these are probably more painful to endure than any of the mutilation or beating that takes place, because they show how miserable and how human the lowly-criminal-yet-universal subject is.

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