Beyond (2010) – A Film Review
Leena (Noomi Rapace) is a thirty-something woman who learns that her mother (Outi Mäenpää) is close to death and that she wishes to see her daughter one last time. The issue here is that Leena has become so estranged from her mother that her own husband and children are not even aware that the latter is still alive. Indeed, Leena’s first reaction is to say nothing and instead disappear off to the solitude of the local swimming pool. Here, though, she sees a vision of herself as a young girl (Tehilla Blad), which is a symbolic device that then allows debutant Swedish director Pernilla August to embark upon a twin-track tale of how Leena grew up to be this emotionally-scarred woman and what effect going to see her mother will now have upon her. The result constitues such a deeply personal narrative that it comes as no surprise to learn that the screenplay was adapted by Ms. August from a semi-autobiographical work by novelist Susanna Alakoski.
However, whereas Ms. Rapace delivers an impressively intense and emotionally-wracked performance here, the character of Leena’s husband has been underdeveloped and there are several other weaknesses in the narrative surrounding her trip back home. On the other hand, when the film concentrates on Leena’s upbringing, it is at its most potent. Essentially, her parents were Finnish immigrants to Sweden. Her father (Ville Virtanen) was a violent drunk and her mother, an enabler, who was equally capable of drinking to excess. The result was that Leena was much more responsible for her younger brother (Junior Blad) than she ever ought to have been, whilst always left feeling different from her peers. Moreover, the living conditions that both children were growing up in and what they often had to witness were appalling.
As it happens, though, Ms. Alakoski’s novel was a first-person narrative told from the perspective of the younger Leena only. Seemingly, it was Ms. August who took the decision to then try and imagine the sort of person that a girl who has been through such an ordeal might grow up to become. If so, then it may well go some way to explaining the sense of a dichotomy in the work’s narrative quality. Indeed, a similar issue arises with Jan Troell’s Everlasting Moments (2008), which also looks at the frequently brutal domestic life of another Finnish immigrant. In this latter film, the director looks to set such domestic problems against the backdrop of the wider set of social and political events concurrently taking place in Sweden. Again, though, the result is one that serves to lighten/dilute the effect of the dark mood inside of the four walls of the family home.
It is also important to note that as much as a monster as Leena’s father is made out to be in Beyond, this is not a story about a lack of love. Rather, it is how such feelings get inundated by the unquenchable thirst that is long-term drug dependency. Nor are the ties that bind families together given a superficial treatment here. Rather, Ms. August’s work emphasises how permanent and complex are the marks that close blood relationships leaves upon us.