Gustav Möller’s The Guilty
There is nothing quite as insidious as a good intention. It worms its way into our consciousness making us feel righteous and antsy. We get in a disquieted state where no one around us cares sufficiently, acts urgently, or takes us seriously. It whips us into a toxic state of helpfulness and our alacrity leaves a wake of unintended, unanticipated negative consequences. A good intention narrows our vision. It puts blinders on us, so that we are not only closed off from the holistic reality of the circumstance, but we can no longer see our own limitations. We are now the sole guardian of our pet problem. We are the resolver, we are the decider, and everything is doomed. In Gustav Möller’s The Guilty, we are the silent witnesses of a good intention amuck through extraordinarily private and desperate exchanges from a single call center, and the consequences therein.
Asger Holm prides himself on being a policeman. He is an upholder, a protector, and he’s seen enough people making poor decisions that give him a certain sense of moral authority which is an inevitable byproduct of wearing a badge. Moral authority does have its pitfalls, however, so Asger has been temporarily reduced to deskwork. He as been assigned to an emergency call center, like 911 but it’s 211 because it’s Denmark. The calls are mostly people suffering their own stupidity – anxiety attacks from street drugs, injuries from drunken behavior, getting mugged in a bad part of town. Asger has no patience left for that nonsense and he’s counting the minutes until his shift ends. Then he gets a call from a scared woman who cannot speak freely because she is trapped in a vehicle with her abductor. Asger springs into action, calling dispatch but they don’t respond with ample alarm – time is of the essence and they have the gall to say that they’re handling and that further follow up on this call is not his job. Asger makes it his personal mission to get this woman out of the vehicle at all costs using the limited resources he has within the call center.
Asger Holm is a good person. That is really important to understand. Good people are allowed themselves mistakes and personal concessions because their ends are justified, and any self-reflection that would convince them otherwise, would devastate them. Asger’s goodness is that sand on which his identity is built upon, and any erosion of that would bring his whole structure down. Jakob Cedergren’s performance as Asger is a study in restraint and transparency. Asger is a professional, and with that comes a measured amount of emotional distance and prudence. He is clearly under a tremendous amount of stress, but out of consideration to his peers and for the sake of his reputation he needs to appear nonchalant and levelheaded. As the plot thickens and Asger pulls himself into isolation, those trappings of discretion begin to fall away and he can sense it in himself – he’s panicking. Cedergren’s performance always keeps Asger squarely in the realm of sympathetic and dangerous; he is understandable and utterly reckless.
Gustav Möller uses the limited space to cage Asger and emphasize how shortsighted he really is. The entire film takes place in two, beige, utilitarian rooms, a call center and an adjacent office where Asger retreats to continue his investigation in darkness and privacy. We gain an intimate understanding of the instruments Asger has to operate with – the phone that takes the emergency calls, makes outgoing calls, and speed-dials the pertinent dispatches; the computer with the database with phone numbers, addresses, license plate numbers, etc., as well as a map that can let him know the cell towers calls are pinging from; and Asger’s cell phone with his few trusted personal contacts. Möller engages the audience with these tools to the point that we are staring with expectation and anxiously at the red light that tells us a call is coming in, and we are analyzing the map trying to figure out where the vehicle is headed. We find ourselves in Asger’s rolling office chair. We are only trying to help.
The Guilty is a stressful and claustrophobic watch that will leave you feeling drained and exhilarated. Your perspective of everyone involved - from Asger to the woman on the phone, to her abductor, to the annoyed voices of the dispatch – will evolve so entirely that you will be forced to distrust even your own good intentions. The details of Asger’s intense investigation are doled out so judiciously, that you too will not hit upon the truth until it is entirely too late.
Lisa Gullickson had the privilege of seeing Gustav Möller’s The Guilty in a theater twice at two separate film festivals– in Austin, TX, at The Alamo Drafthouse’s genre film festival Fantastic Fest, and at The Alamo Drafthouse Winchester’s Lost Weekend X film festival in Winchester, VA, programmed by Andy Gyurisin. Its United States release date is October 19th from Magnolia pictures, so see it in the theater if you can.