After his 2004 feature A
Hole in My Heart, radical in both form and content, it would be difficult to
describe any feature from Swedish auteur Lukas Moodysson as shocking.
Nonetheless, his latest work Container still comes as something of a shock, and only confirms
that he’s left the relative calm of Show
Me Love and Together far behind.
Shot in harsh black-and-white and containing only a wisp of a narrative, the
mirthless Container is likely to
alienate more viewers than it wins over. The only sound present in the film is
the stream-of-conscience voiceover performed by actress Jena Malone (who never
appears on screen). It delivers, in bits and pieces, observations from a
character that may or may not be represented on screen. The images, which
don’t quite match up with the narration, mostly depict an overweight white
male and the Asian female whom he feels is trapped inside him. The title,
presumably, suggests that his male body is a mere container for his female
psyche. This emotional state is represented by Moodysson, who swaps his two
actors around, shows them dressing like one another, and stages scenes such as
the one that shows the young man, wrapped in a white sheet, struggling to free
This material is rather mundane, but when Container
moves away from the boy who’s a girl inside, it comes closer to achieving
true poeticism. When juxtaposed with the stark imagery, the words of the voice
over are sometimes truly haunting (e.g. “You’ve stared straight into the
fire. Your eyes melt. They are bleeding. Your eye sockets are bleeding. You have
seen too much. You have touched too much. Any there are too many that have
touched you. It’s a miracle that you have lived.”). The narrator is obsessed
with celebrity, dropping famous names often (the references range from The Spice
Girls to suicidal porn queen Savannah), enforcing the impression that body image
is key to this film’s meaning. The narrator is just as intrigued by
catastrophes, though, and there’s something heartbreaking about the way that
the film puts celebrity culture on the same level as global disasters. In the
mindset that Moodysson conveys, the Aniston-Pitt breakup or Kylie Minogue’s
breast cancer diagnosis carry the same weight as the Chernobyl meltdown or the
tragedy of school shootings.
At its worst, Container
recalls the pretentious black and white student film that was parodied in Ghost
World. That’s a reductive and glib reaction to this singular film, though.
A more constructive viewer will see the common ground between the sad sacks that
have served as the centers of all of Moodysson’s films, including this one.
The director has an almost perverse impulse to demonstrate the depths of his
compassion by taking his viewers to nearly unwatchable extremes. He wants to
show that he can still care, no matter how depraved a scenario he conceives. His
last three films create a conflicting impulse when viewed because while they
simply reflect the culture that’s out there (albeit subcultures usually not
talked about), they actively confront the viewer with a relentless barrage of
ugliness. More consistent than coherent, Container
is a stylistic departure for the director, recalling the work of Stan
Brakage (as different as they are, both Brakhage’s queasy Desistfilm and the rapid-fire montage of his Mothlight are valid reference points) more than anything Moodysson
has previously made. Container is a
highly subjective experience, to be sure, but for this viewer, as it continued,
it became a more convincing vision of despair.
Though many would claim that Moodysson’s spectacular career immolation
following his first few features has been self-indulgent and wasteful, those who
still might be willing to give the director the benefit of doubt, and especially
those who appreciated A Hole in My Heart,
should be encouraged to seek out Container.