Several minutes into the film, Ingmar Bergman’s island of Fårö—the haunting scapes of which are rendered beautiful in their timeless unease and isolation, came to mind. Though Susanne Bier’s 2015 thriller A Second Chance is set a hop and skip away in modern Denmark, there is the same strange and stark symbiosis of human interaction and their environment...
|From Bergman's Through A Glass Darkly (1961)|
|From Bier's A Second Chance (2015)|
Before being carried away on fanciful words though—let’s talk about the elephant in the room, which is in fact, simply the very heavy metaphorical elephant that looms across the whole film. Yes, that is to say the shadows are long in this movie, and ever longer do they stretch as it progresses.
The film begins fast and right in the thick of things as detective Andreas and Simon break into known criminal Tristan’s apartment. From the get-go, Biers packs a punch with confronting visual images and the kinetic camerawork that never settles on anything for long. Subsequent events get darker and darker—a baby at the heart of it—and the rest perhaps better left for the viewer to discover. For by leaving the plot behind in this film, we better appreciate the tragic pathos of Bier’s characters. Andreas, the tragic hero, driven by his flaw of moral righteousness, in a world ruled by systems and laws; Sanne, a woman trapped in a degrading relationship who needs a way out; Simon, the alcoholic detective living alone, left by his wife for a swimming teacher; and Anna, the mother of Andreas’ son who remains a mystery. Like the frames of the infinite horizon above the water, and the single endless row of streetlights that cinematographer Snyman captures elegantly, so each of these characters is utterly alone. Each has a private struggle, demons that are constantly tense beneath the surface but only burst through sometimes—catalytic events that take characters closer, closer and then, for some, further away from the edge.
Bier’s ability to depict this unsettling tension both between, and within each character harkens to a sense of human experience that is etched in ancient tragedies. Her thriller gains more traction within this enduring framework with the starkly etched portraits and relentless pathos becoming more meaningful as individual, interpersonal stories. Despite this, the film could have been relieved at times from its constant sarabande. Even the disorienting but necessary movement of the camera, to keep a sense of ‘going somewhere’ grows more and more still, not only weighing down on the movie, but growing tediously heavy on the audience’s shoulders too.
What Biers tries to reveal is illuminated in the words of Bergman- "I want very much to tell, to talk about, the wholeness inside every human being. It's a strange thing that every human being has a sort of dignity or wholeness in him, and out of that develops relationships to other human beings, tensions, misunderstandings, tenderness, coming in contact, touching and being touched, the cutting off of a contact and what happens then."
Biers doesn't quite cut to the bone with A Second Chance, leaving the viewer rather dull-headed but not so much enlightened. But that is not to say this film isn't worth seeing for although a rather heavy-handed shadow does fall over A Second Chance, it is inevitable that the characters and their stories do emerge with quiet dignity, in the clean northern light.