Kidnapping saga The Guilty asks a lot of the audience – but it's worth it

by James Robins / 05 March, 2019
RelatedArticlesModule - The Guilty movie

The events of this smart Danish film play out mostly in the audience’s imagination, building tension with the things we cannot see.

The Guilty is an incisive, smart, twisted noir, and an exercise in imagination: just how much of a film – a visual medium, remember – can its audience render or recreate in their minds? What places can be conjured up and faces imagined from the slightest cues of speech and tone?

For an astonishing 90 minutes, we never leave the call centre of Danish emergency services. Even at the film’s close, the camera pointedly never crosses the threshold of an exit. Our only link to the outside world – and the chilly intrigues of plot – is through a dispatcher named Asger (Jakob Cedergren), a demoted cop awaiting trial the next morning for an incident that’s revealed after many exhausting twists.

At first, Asger is callous and unsympathetic. This is a challenging prospect, because his face is about the only thing we ever see. Much of the film’s copious strain is built by our witnessing of only one side of a saga. Everything else takes place along unseen highways, in anonymous vehicles, in absent houses and through the words of unseen characters. Those voices can either earn or betray our trust, unreliable when divorced from context, without an expression to match them. The rest is down to us, and the richness of the picture depends on our engagement, our empathy.

That saga, at least to begin with, concerns a kidnapping. Iben (Jessica Dinnage) is in a van, travelling north, desperate and uncertain. It isn’t just the terror of that abducted woman, her children left alone at home, but Asger’s own impotence, too. All he can do is make phone calls – and confront whatever impulse led him to be sitting in that call centre, pending trial. The course of action he takes, a plea against helplessness, is in search of a kind of redemption.

Such an elegant and simple concept has been mined for the screen before, though not always successfully: Phone Booth resolved into hysterics, and the Tom Hardy vehicle Locke ran out of narrative gas down the M6. The Guilty is even more pared down and spare than those movies, yet it still holds our attention.

This is partly because the script is clever and unrelenting, but also because the writers have decided to trust their audience: to let us shade the empty space, fill in the blanks. It’s not often that we’re asked to invent half a film in our heads, after all.



Video: Magnolia Pictures & Magnet Releasing

This article was first published in the March 9, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.


How to enhance your dining experience – with water
103174 2019-03-22 00:00:00Z Dining

How to enhance your dining experience – with water…

by Metro

A stunning dining experience isn’t just about food and wine. Water plays a big part too.

Read more
Facebook won't give up its insidious practices without a fight
103856 2019-03-22 00:00:00Z Tech

Facebook won't give up its insidious practices wit…

by Peter Griffin

Facebook came under fire for its response to the live-streaming of the Christchurch terror attack, but it's digital nudging that's also concerning.

Read more
In photos: The world unites in solidarity with Christchurch
103800 2019-03-21 15:36:46Z World

In photos: The world unites in solidarity with Chr…

by Lauren Buckeridge

Countries around the world have put on a show of solidarity for the victims of the Christchurch terror attack.

Read more
The tangled path to terrorism
103777 2019-03-21 09:59:55Z Psychology

The tangled path to terrorism

by Marc Wilson

The path that leads people to commit atrocities such as that in Christchurch is twisting and unpredictable, but the journey often begins in childhood.

Read more
If 'This is not New Zealand', let us show it
103768 2019-03-21 09:31:27Z Social issues

If 'This is not New Zealand', let us show it

by The Listener

The little signs among the banks of flowers said, “This is not New Zealand.” They meant, “We thought we were better than this.” We were wrong.

Read more
Extremism is not a mental illness
103785 2019-03-21 00:00:00Z Crime

Extremism is not a mental illness

by The Mental Health Foundation of NZ

Shooting people is not a symptom of a mental illness. White supremacy is not a mental illness.

Read more
PM announces ban on all military-style semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles
103805 2019-03-21 00:00:00Z Crime

PM announces ban on all military-style semi-automa…

by RNZ

Ms Ardern pledged the day after the terrorist massacre that "gun laws will change" and would be announced within 10 days of the attack.

Read more
No mention of right-wing extremist threats in 10 years of GCSB & SIS public docs
103770 2019-03-21 00:00:00Z Politics

No mention of right-wing extremist threats in 10 y…

by Jane Patterson

There is not one specific mention of the threat posed by white supremacists or right-wing nationalism in 10 years of security agency documents.

Read more