Container is “a silent movie with sound”, according to Swedish director Lukas Moodysson. The film does not have a traditional three-act structure or any recognizable narrative. The visuals are only loosely related the monologue read by American actress Jena Malone. It’s more of an experimental/avant-garde/art film intended to elicit a certain kind of feelings, or no feelings at all. Someone described it as an “open letter to God”. Knowing Moodysson’s strong Christian beliefs I would have to agree: The voice over repeatedly mentions themes and images pertaining to Christianity. Just like Moodysson’s other films it is also about celebrity and pop culture, consumerism and the horrors of civilization, namely the Second World War and Chernobyl’s catastrophic nuclear accident.
Shot on location (Cluj, Romania; Charnobyl, Ukraine and Trollhättan, Sweden) in beautiful high-contrast black and white Container is not supposed to be taken literally, but viewed more as a piece of poetry. It’s not a film you can ever fully understand, but it is possible to enjoy it for what it is: A non-narrative sequence of unusual imagery, playing with no sound (until the end) other than Jena Malone’s angst ridden voice.
The closest film I could compare it to is David Lynch’s Inland Empire (2006), although in that case the director clearly uses image and sound to their full potential. In Container Moodysson seems to be trying to tone down everything, reducing it to the essential, constantly hitting the same note, repeating himself even. Where Inland Empire is a very emotional work of art, changing tone and film stock and score and actors and lighting, Container remains unfazed. Jena’s pronounces the words on the script exactly the same way for the entire movie. Her intonation never changes. The mood and atmosphere Lukas creates is almost consistently the same throughout the entire film, until the very end where sound comes in. At that point the film appears to become creepier, but then ends on the same way it started.
Personally I prefer a film that touches you on an emotional level, didn’t seem to be interested in doing that. While the film is not about anything in particular (on the surface) it’s never boring and not difficult to sit through. Some might call this a “pretentious” or “self-indulgent” film; to me it’s a film that never compromises its vision and does exactly what the director wanted. That makes it pure. It’s all about the filmmaker’s attitude in making a film: ‘Pretension’ to me is when a director knows he’s portraying something that is possibly “morally reprehensible”, but almost apologizes for it and winks at the audience through the actors letting them know he knows it’s actually “wrong”. A director like Moodysson is not a hypocrite and is beyond that. He loves his characters, fully embraces his art form and doesn’t need to explain anything to the audience, because he doesn’t underestimate their “intelligence”. That’s where a film like Container succeeds and most French New Wave doesn’t.
Rating on First Viewing
(on my laptop)
7 out of 10