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Container (Lukas Moodysson, 2006)


      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 himself.


    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.



Jeremy Heilman