There's a cliché that states great art stems from negative emotions (aka the tortured artist), if that's true then Container is probably Lukas Moodysson's magnum opus. It's a relentless, dark and hermetically closed down film. I remember loving it when I first watched it, but I never saw it again since that first viewing. It's just not the kind of film you pop in to have a good time. This weekend I figured it was time to see if the film still held up after all those years and I must say, Container still packs quite a punch.
Moodysson has had a pretty interesting career so far. He started off with Fucking Åmål and Tillsammans, two dramatic yet uplifting films which left a pleasant impression. Soon after he started his descent into darker territory though. He seemed to have hit rock bottom with Ett Hål i Mitt Hjärta [A Hole in My Heart], but that was before the first footage of Container surfaced. I'm not sure in what way this film reflected Moodysson's personal state of mind, but it's clear that he had to get something off his chest badly.
Container is not a typical narrative film, in fact, there isn't much of a plot to speak of. Instead there's a stream of loosely related scenes featuring a boy and a girl. The girl subscribes to the contemporary beauty ideal, the boy is your average overweight, scruffy male. On top there's an endless voice-over telling stories and baring feelings that relate tangentially to the people on the screen. Container is an audiovisual poem, a film more concerned with communicating a state of being than touching on concrete plot points or any kind of coherent message.
What binds these characters is the feeling that they don't belong in their body. The girl wants to be a boy, the boy wants to be a girl. It's a thread that runs throughout the entire film, prompting me to believe that we're actually watching two aspects of the same person, sometimes fighting with each other, sometimes helping each other out. But as is often the case with a film like this, if you're looking for meaning or looking to make sense of what you're seeing, it's ends up being more about what you yourself bring to the film than what's actually there.
Moodysson chose to do the film in harsh and rich constrasting black and white, which works extremely well for the atmosphere he tried to evoke. It gives the images an ominous look, even when there's nothing really disturbing to see. It's somewhat of a safe choice when doing an experimental film and it's not used to its fullest effect, but it's hard to imagine the film in color, let alone in a way that would've improved on it. If you also take into account some sharply edited scenes and some nice camera work, there's really no way to fault the visuals.
It's the soundtrack that really gets to me though. Mind you, I use soundtrack in a very liberal sense, because 95% of the film goes without any form of music. Only at the very end is there some dark ambient/illbient to go with the visuals. But the monotone voice over is as much an element of style as it is a way to convey meaning. Jena Malone just drones on for 70 minutes straight, taking care of both the male and female part of the monologue. It's a truly transfixing experience, although I'm sure it's going to be a bend or break deal for most people.
From what I've read there's also an original Swedish dub, but Container is a rare example of a film where I would advice against the dub. Not just because Malone does such an amazing job, but because the information density is so high that reading subtitles would detract too much from the overall experience. Besides the voice over there are also the two main characters of the film, though they don't really have that much to do. They just act out certain motions, but there's little or no interaction to speak of and most of the time the camera acts as a voyeur while they're doing mundane (and not so mundane) things.
Container clearly isn't a film for everyone. There's no real narrative, the droning voice over weighs on the film and the visuals aren't exactly pleasant or soothing. 70 minutes may not sound like a long time, but when served like this it surely drags you down. That said, Moodysson sculpts a tight and suffocating experience, a unique, twisted vision of the human psyche that wraps you up and won't let you go until long after the very last frames have faded from the screen.
It's impossible to univocally recommend a film like this, but fans of experimental, dark and uncompromising cinema should really check this one out (if you haven't already). It has lost none of its power since its release, it's still an impressive, atmospheric and unrelentless piece of guerilla cinema that grants us a rare glimpse of Moodysson's darkest inner corners. Not for the faint of heart, but still a clear personal favorite of mine.