The Hour Of The Lynx (I lossens time)

Denmark/Sweden (2013) Dir. Søren Kragh-Jacobsen

By now, the phrase “Nordic Noir” will be something of a generic byword for the endless supply of superbly crafted dark, violent crime thrillers set in the gloomiest parts of Scandinavia. The Hour Of the Lynx, based on the stage play by Per Olov Enquist, is however a film which supplants the usual crime mystery for psychological study.

Staying true to the formula of the Scandi shocker, the film opens in horrific fashion as a young Danish lad named Drengen (Frederik Christian Johansen) turns up at a farm house in Sweden during a heavy winter snow and brutally kills its elderly residents (Donald Högberg and Barbro Enberg), seemingly without a motive.

Having been interred in a psychiatric hospital in Denmark for two years, Drengen is one of the subjects of a research programme conducted by a psychoanalyst named Lisbeth (Signe Egholm Olsen). When Drengen tries to commit suicide and claims God told him to do it, Lisbeth approaches Helen (Sofie Gråbøl) a priest to talk to Drengen and find out the reasoning behind his ramblings.

By having one of the most recognisable faces (to us Brits anyway) from the Nordic Noir movement in the main role as well as opening with a gruesome and cold blooded murder, it is not a stretch to suggest many viewers will find their expectations confounded at how calm and restrained this film is, all the while still possessing the familiar eeriness of its TV counterparts.   

It’s not even a tale about religion either, with the relationship with God being just one facet of the many complex insecurities that trigger Drengen’s psychological breakdown. Yes, the boy is damaged, of that there is no question, but trying to find the cause and rationale behind his behaviour and his random ramblings is the meat of the mystery being solved since the crime is irrefutable.

Part of Lisbeth’s programme is to give the subjects a pet to look after, yielding varying degrees of success. For Drengen the ginger cat he names Valde brings with it a huge improvement in his both his behaviour, mental stability and a life in his spirits. But a jealous patient excluded from the programme spitefully throws Valde over the hospital wall, so Drengen retaliates by killing him.

A couple of nights later the cat returns although Drengen quickly recognises it is not the same cat because this one talks to him about his secrets, his past and about God. Eventually the cat cajoles Drengen into entering a suicide pact, although the boy’s demise is stopped in time. Of course this was all in Drengen’s mind which is where Helen comes into the picture.

Initially she has little luck getting Drengen to open up and persuading him that God didn’t intend him to die but Helen decides to stick with the job and does some research on the lad’s past which gives her a new foundation to build on. Much like a breakthrough in a police investigation this is where Drenegen’s backstory is revealed, and all the seemingly irrelevant and disparate references begin to make sense.

The beauty of this story is the way so many dramatic conventions have been subverted in the pursuit of providing a fresh perspective to looking at an issue. This isn’t about breaking Drengen down so his murderous motives are explained to give us peace of mind – this isn’t even about demonising him since we already know he is guilty.

Unequivocally the murder cannot be justified and the punishment of psychiatric incarceration is completely fair, but there is a greater emotional burden that drove Drengen to his actions that flips the story on its head from being a crime thriller to a emotional tragedy. While the script teases us with pertinent flashbacks in the first half they don’t tell the whole story, and our sensitivities are suddenly aware of this

There is a greater issue being explored here and it has less to do with Drengen and the other patients. Again this subplot has to share the attention with main storyline but there is a staunch critique of the treatment of mentally ill patients, criminal or otherwise, hidden in the subtext.

When Helen arrives at the hospital, Lisbeth is at loggerheads with the hospital’s head psychiatrist (Jens Jørn Spottag) over the imminent closure of the programme. By way of flashbacks, it is Lisbeth’s perspective that dictates what we learn about Drengen and the volatile environment of the hospital. It is through her recollections that the animal incentive was successful while the opposition from the others is blinkered ignorance.

So how is it that Helen achieves more with Drengen in 24 hours than Lisbeth has over a greater time span? Because one treats the boy as a person while the other, a test subject. One want to understand for his sake while the other wants to understand for their own elucidation. Much like the film’s entire narrative, it’s a matter of perspective.

Despite the inquisitive nature of Helen’s role, Sofie Gråbøl is not playing Sarah Lund in a dog collar (in fact, she wears what resembles an Elizabethan ruff with her smock). Instead Helen is a much calmer, in control and, dare I say, warmer character than Lund, although the famous knit wear is still a omnipresent fashion statement.

It is former child star Frederik Christian Johansen who dominates the film with his nervy, unpredictable and protean essaying of Drengen, a role which demands much of the young man and he more than meets the challenge. Somewhat wasted in a supporting role is the ubiquitous Søren Malling as security officer Knud, yet his presence here is reassuring for both the viewers and Helen.

The Hour Of the Lynx is a suitably oblique title (the meaning of which is explained) for a film that wears its boldness on it sleeve, the quiet intelligence and probing themes of the story revealing themselves in a refreshingly understated but still chilling presentation.