Review by Alana Odegard.
It’s tricky to write about a film that leaves you feeling puzzled and scratching your head.
What I can say for sure is that Messenger is one of the only Icelandic films I have seen that didn’t include any of the few well-known Icelandic actors that seem to be in every film that is released here, although that’s not to say I don’t like and look forward to their work.
It was also the first Icelandic film I have seen that included overt computerized special effects. But apart from those two facts, I’m at somewhat of a loss.
I came away with the distinct feeling that either the whole film had gone over my head with its philosophical and religious themes or that it was just really average and I was over-thinking it.
I suppose a good place to start would be to provide a synopsis of some sort, but the problem is I don’t know what this film was about, exactly.
Here’s my best shot:
The film is about a guy, Páll Balvinsson (played by Darri Ingólfsson), a plumber/artist who begins to receive visits from angels who tell him that he is clairvoyant and that there is good and evil in the world.
All the while the Icelandic economy is collapsing and there is a gunman on the loose who shoots powerful people with their own feces.
There’s also a lot of talk about God, heaven and Páll needing to write down the message of his dreams and about being God’s soldier and avoiding the evil, corrupt and greedy people…
A little confused? Join the club.
Even with a lot going on, it didn’t feel like the film went anywhere. After 40 minutes into the 96-minute film, I couldn’t tell you what the point was because it still felt like the groundwork was being laid.
It’s not as if I need a big Hollywood plot or central “purpose” to the film (such as everyone scrambling to accomplish a common goal, like defusing a bomb, as my husband put it), but I need something I can piece together.
Parts of the film were on the absurd and ridiculous side and even gave off a little bit of a David Lynchesque vibe (which I loved) but just as I was getting into it, the film shifted and lost me again.
I did, however, get the impression that the makers of the film were passionate about telling this story and delivering the message as best they could. It was as if they really wanted to share the story with the audience, and as a filmgoer, that is something I appreciate.
I had a sneaking suspicion that maybe it was a case of trying really hard to make a film based on a complex, multi-dimensional sci-fi book or even a video game that ended up just not being translatable once it hit the screen.
However, as far as I can tell, the screenplay was written exclusively for the film by the director and not based on a novel.
According to the film’s summary in IMDB, the movie was “filmed before the 2008 Icelandic banking crash that shocked the world [… and] is a prediction of chaos turned prophetic. While many of its projections have already been fulfilled by recent events, one can only hope that the remainder will not...”
Yes, one can only hope, because if the other predictions are true then that would mean… wait, actually, I have no idea what that would mean.
I felt as if the film had several good ideas but they were all thrown up in the air, landing where they may, which made it difficult to make sense of everything.
Indeed the film seemed to be right on the mark about some things (especially given that it was filmed before the collapse), in particular what it had to say about greed and corruption in Iceland.
Phrases like: “Everyone wants to be a millionaire in Iceland”, “Your generation […] is too busy chasing some foreign styrofoam culture” and “poisoning the community with greed” definitely rung true.
I most enjoyed the first and last ten minutes of Messenger. What initially struck me was the language. There is one character in particular, Addi, who perfectly captures how Icelandic is changing and incorporating English words as slang.
As for the rest of it, I found some of the shots to be inventive and interesting, even inspiring, while others just didn’t work for me and felt either predictable or unnecessary.
Likewise, some of the acting was great, most notably the main character, Páll, his girlfriend Thórdís (Ísgerdur Elfa Gunnarsdóttir) and his best friend Addi (Frosti Runólfsson).
Yet at other times it felt as if I was watching people who had been pulled off the street and asked to take part in the scene. However, instead of capturing the magic of cinéma vérité, the result just made me cringe and shift uncomfortably in my seat.
To really find out whether Messenger is a masterpiece rather than just mediocre I would definitely need to give it another go and watch it again.
The problem is I can’t muster the enthusiasm or motivation to do it… maybe that means I’ve already got my answer right there.
I really want to like this film and there’s no question it’s got something to it. In other words, the Messenger has a message, it just doesn’t come together somehow and didn’t work for me.
Alana Odegard – [email protected]
Ready and willing to watch anything that comes her way, Alana has an unquenchable thirst for the motion picture art form. Alana studied film as part of her BA degree and as the story so often goes, she is tirelessly trying to find ways to surround herself with the enchanting world of film. She hopes this passion will one day spill over from the realm of pastime to likewise envelop that of fulltime day-job as well.