The Here After – Swedish film by some genius screen writer, that stars the beautiful Ulrik Munther who has not only represented Sweden in Eurovision, but is a boy with an absolutely beautiful face.
I’ll stop fangirling for a moment. That’s not why you’re here.
Now, I haven’t seen a lot of films depicting what it’s like to have mental illnesses. I watch a lot of documentaries on the subject, yes, but very often do I find these sorts of characters portrayed in media. When they are, we get people like Hannah from 13 Reasons Why, who’s a really bad representation for what mental illness and depression actually looks like.
Now, disclaimer here – it took me and my friend hours to find this film, and even then, we couldn’t find subtitles. While it would have been nice to be able to understand what they’re saying, seeing as we certainly couldn’t learn Swedish in an afternoon, I also didn’t feel like I missed out on any of the movies’ content. After all, dialogue was rather minimal, and the acting was good enough that you were able to understand exactly what was going on at any given time.
Originally, the movie is about a young boy returning home after a two year jail sentence for (spoiler) killing his ex-girlfriend. Because we didn’t understand what they were saying, it was a bit hard to pick up on this concept, and we’re left with questions as to why he did it and what actually happened. Then again, with the artsy and open ended style of the film, perhaps those questions never got answered in the first place.
To be honest, as interesting as the concept is, I found it irrelevant. Throughout the movie, you see this boy, John, going through severe depression. He’s struggling with his family, he’s being bullied, everyone hates him to the point they’ll start beating on him in the middle of grocery stores, and in the end, (spoiler) he grabs a gun and demands that the mother of the girl he killed shoots him. When she doesn’t, he throws a fit and ends up sobbing on her kitchen floor.
What I find most striking about this film, however, is how relateable it is. I don’t need the concept, I don’t need the subtitles – I know depression when I see it. John is shut down. Despite being the main character, he speaks probably no more than fifteen lines in the whole movie – much less than anyone else does – and that’s usually reduced to one or two word answers. He’s beaten senseless and neither talks back nor defends himself. He barely eats. He’s quiet, clearly miserable, disengaged from everything and everyone, and wears his fear on him like one of his very well put together outfits. He’s a freaking mess, whatever the concept of the movie is.
The film itself was slow. Very little happened in terms of plot. Characters didn’t develop, there was no real story, no background music, and mostly made up of one artistic shot after another. And while many people might find this boring, or not engaging from a viewers standpoint, I was stricken with how well they summed up my life in an hour and a half.
The world moved like molasses, everything was dark, and as soon as something good was found, it was quickly taken away. The film hung on a sense of hopelessness, a harsh portrayal in the realities of the world and this boy’s journey. It’s in his lack of friendships, in how the entire world seems to turn on him, and how he, in turn, stays distant from it all. It’s probably the best portrayal of depression that I’ve ever seen on film.
I don’t care about the concept. I don’t care that he’s supposed to be a murderer, that he’s being bullied, or that his family’s pretty trashy. None of that matters. What matters is that each different thing that he had to deal with seemed like another blow – like John represents us trying to fit in and find our places among mental illness, and the world is the depression constantly beating him from every angle. Everything moves slowly, there’s no sunshine, taking a single step forward is a struggle, and you’re constantly being haunted by your past, your regrets, and your inability to move forward. It’s like he moved out of one jail to another, into a world that would never let him find the freedom and relief from depression that he needed.
And you feel that with him every step of the way.
Ever watch water drip from a tap after the facet as been turned off? It’s like one drop falls every five minutes. You want the water slowly accumulate, wait in anticipation for it to fall, and then it starts all over again. It’s an endless and very anticlimactic cycle. It’s boring, monotonous, and has just a touch of desperation to it because you have no idea whether there’s going to be enough water to make the next drop actually fall.
I feel like that’s what it was like watching this film. We were waiting for the water to fall when it never does. It stares at us, tauntingly on the cusp of spilling over but never quite getting there. Maybe it sounds strange, but I feel like that’s what depression is like – the knowing that the water’s never going to fall, but being unable to turn away from it anyway. It’s that hopeless trudging of getting through the things you need to get through, trying your hardest to find the sunshine and make something of yourself, when all you are is a leaky facet and most people seem like a sink on full blast.
I’ve found no better portrayal of this feeling than in Efterskalv, and frankly, I don’t think I ever will. If I ever need to explain what depression feels like to anyone, I’m going to make them sit down and watch it with me.
Now, I understand that it may not be your tastes. You may think it’s slow and you can’t get past the fact that you can’t understand it – and that one two second shot of male frontal nudity might make you never want to look at it ever. But if you want to watch something that fully encompasses the feeling of absolute depression, please go check it out. It’s actually amazing.