The difference between foreign films (specifically European ones) and
Hollywood movies is often the manipulation of the script. All films have some type of message within them, but the good ones don’t force the audience to think or feel one way or another. Instead they allow the audience to come to that point on their own, making it their discovery, rather than the filmmaker’s agenda. There are no answers in Susanne Bier’s remarkable In a Better World, and there are no perfect characters. We see the outcome of tragic events, and reactions which we are meant to judge for ourselves, just as the characters must also do.
Following two Danish families from different backgrounds, as specific events bring them closer together, In a Better World often feels disjointed and unrelated. By the end, however, it all seems to naturally come together. One of the families is wealthy and new in town, whereas the other family is immigrant Swedes, and continually berated for this fact. The two different worlds are brought together by the boys in each family. Christian arrives in town with his father after the death of his mother, and has since become rebellious and angry. This anger is quickly used against a bully terrorizing the Swedish boy, Elias.
Soon Christian develops a sense of righteousness in his own ability to right the unjust world around him, scheming bigger and bigger each time. Elias follows along like a lost puppy, just grateful to have a friend. Meanwhile Elias’ father is often off on business as a doctor in impoverished areas of
Africa. In his own storyline, this doctor is forced to face the dilemma of offering medical assistance to a man who has caused many of the injuries coming into the makeshift hospital as well. The stories of forgiveness and revenge are powerful without telling us what we must think.