Trapped (Ófærð), an Icelandic crime drama produced by Iceland’s best known director, Baltasar Kormákur, is receiving raving reviews in both the UK and France where the series is currently being shown.
What is so special about this particular TV drama? Well, the infusion of the plot with the menacing winter landscape plays a role for sure; to be isolated in a small town, a village by international standards, one that is cut off from the world by highlands that become impassable when the storms of winter strike is a concept that both fascinates and frightens.
As an Icelander living on the other side of the island in the capital city, where access to international flights and proper hospital facilities is within a short distance, the realization of how whole communities in Iceland can in fact become isolated when the extremes of weather or natural disaster strike comes as a reminder of how fragile this existence can be.
We know that weather in Iceland is extreme and that the wind here is unbelievably strong some days. We grow accustomed to these extremes; yet, hold these very same forces in high regard. Trapped reminds me, too, of how beautiful Iceland is and how close we are to nature. In the capital, there is relative safety from the greatest extremes, but we know that in the West Fjords, isolated places up north and places like Seyðisfjörður (where Trapped is filmed) on the east coast, the weather has the power to isolate.
It is fascinating and intimidating at the same time. I find myself wanting to travel to these places in the middle of winter and experience the seasonal darkness to an even greater extent than I do in the capital. There is urgency in the isolation, but, at the same time, as someone who grew up in a town with only a few thousand residents, I know how exhausting the proximity to others can be.
A small town is both the epitome of romantic aspirations and a place of condensed standards of normality. In my own experience, life in a small town did not prove very happy or fulfilling. However, I suspect that things might have changed a bit with easy access to the world via social media.
Small town politics, for example, are often controversial. In my hometown, the politicians would push through construction work at any cost for the men’s football team, regardless of residents’ opposition to their plans. A horrid gray structure now blocks the view of the once beautiful coastline, much to the dissatisfaction of local property owners.
Another thing that Trapped brings out so well is the solitary existence in a small town in the middle of winter when the world is cast under a gray veil. The mood is darkened and the days are short. Time passes slowly and the howling wind is a haunting reminder of the forces that prevail at this time of year.
In 1995, a small town in the West Fjords suffered a great loss when an avalanche fell in the middle of the town, causing fatalities. It took the emergency and rescue units more than a few hours to reach the isolated community after the event.
For that reason, I have always been wary of steep mountain slopes in winter. I will always remember that day since it was the first time I realized how devastating the forces of nature can be.
The town of Seyðisfjörður is very different from the small community in the West Fjords, and with regular ferry crossings from there to Scandinavia, and especially lively during summer.
I have been there a couple of times, both times in summer, and was quite blown away by how beautiful it is. I would very much like to spend a night or few there in winter.
I have always imagined winters there to be beautiful and tranquil. I know winters can indeed be harsh, but, thankfully for Seyðisfjörður and other small isolated towns in Iceland, the weather as depicted in Trapped is the exception, not the rule.
The eerie sequence of events in this small community is a portrayal of the seemingly unimaginable happening in an idyllic rural hideaway where nothing supposedly ever happens.
All in all, Trapped is an impressive production by both Icelandic and international cinematic standards, in line with the Scandinavian crime trend. It is neither clichéd nor predictable.
I cannot wait to see how it all ends but, admittedly, will miss my Sunday nights in front of the TV once it is all over.
Júlíana Björnsdóttir – [email protected]