Eyes and hands dominate the screen in this beautiful story from Denmark. By foregoing a violent, manipulative musical score for simple thematic motifs, ‘After the Wedding’ asks us to immerse ourselves in the mannerisms of a small, familial cast. It is through the unique bodily motions and habits of speech of those we love that we understand their inclinations; in the eyes of those we love we can see their souls. Pain, joy, and calculated fawning all reveal their presence in the eyes of these characters whose troubles we are asked to observe… we are asked to observe them in the same manner we observe our friends: we are not driven to feel good around our friends by some mystical aura of uplifting music, but are attracted by the loved familiarity of their intimate actions. And among this cast, the agitated figure of Jacob, our protagonist, cannot be contained and belies some suffering deeper than financial woe. He seems the odd man out in a world of people content in the world.
“You’re an angry man. That’s good. It gives you lots of drive.’ says Jorgen to Jacob; indeed it does, that is what anger is meant to do, and anger drives the first part of ‘After the Wedding’. From our first glimpse of Jacob we see this anger, notable in his disdain for this rich man, Jorgen, whom he has never met but who wants to meet him. He is rich, this forty-something year old Jorgen Hannson, and a perplexing man. In every interaction we find him expansively asserting himself, building a façade upon his fear; as the camera follows him from each encounter with his family and associates his face falls to a determined, hounded expression and we are left wondering what is rotten in the state of Denmark aside from the dead fox in the road. Jorgen’s fear will chart for us the structure of the story, although hardly determine the story. To determine the lives of others, particularly recent acquaintances, requires something more powerful than fear: we discover what that is, but (here is the crux of the matter), not immediately, and first each character must vomit up the filth of their suppression. And it is this interlude which both provides the meat of the story and reveals the beauty of Helene, Jorgen’s wife.
People fail us every day, as we fail them. The shame of failure will drive us to hide our suffering from those we love, and the failure of others will make us unwilling to place our trust in them. This is one result of the bondage of sin and leads to further isolation and greater fear; we all see this and know this. We must desire to end this vicious cycle, but this is hard. Psychologically, we become attached to our vice, and the act of separation can be a violent, and often a lengthy process. In myself and in the experience of those around me I have often seen deep-seated changes of heart accompanied by anger or instability, as a long neglected fountain coughs up mud in unsteady streams before running clean.
‘After the Wedding’ gives us, in Helene, a woman capable of weathering the outbursts of those who mean the most to her. And she does this with love, a love which she must first embrace as the innermost foundation of her own character. That is the only place that love can have in our life, for that is where Christ is, and it is where Christ is that those who are burdened will find their rest.