Island bleak beyond belief
SOMEONE on the radio the other day described King of Devil’s Island as ‘‘ a Scandinavian Shawshank Redemption’’.
It’s a catchy enough tag, but grossly inaccurate. The movie is set in a prison- like facility in ye olden days, but that’s about where the similarities end.
This grim Norwegian drama is not in the business of administering an uplifting experience to the viewer in any form.
The film depicts a chain of events that took place in 1915 at the Bastoy Reform School, a holding pen for ‘‘ maladjusted boys’’ on a remote and freezing cold island.
The Bastoy curriculum is hard labour in daylight hours and hassles from the guards throughout the night.
The island’s stubborn Governor Bestyreren ( played to austere perfection by Stellan Skarsgard) believes his rigid system of discipline helps more than it hurts.
With the right students, he can create what he calls ‘‘ honourable, noble, useful, Christian boys’’.
Bestyreren is not completely across the inclinations of certain members of his staff, however, which stretch beyond the brutally harsh to the disturbingly abusive.
As King of Devil’s Island grinds on, you begin to respect the film’s bloody- minded resolve to do justice to this bleak tale.
Parties on both sides of the disciplinary divide appear to be on the verge of cracking up. Something’s got to give. And, more than likely, a revolt just has to happen.
Don’t go to King of Devil’s Island expecting catharsis to occur. What takes hold is more like a state of controlled catatonia, as the boys of Bastoy concentrate with all their might on protecting their will to survive.
You want uplifting? Go catch an escalator.