Women in Film & TV II. FROM DARKNESS – by Kerstin Stutterheim

One achievement of so-called Scandinavian Noir, the specific aesthetic and dramaturgy of contemporary TV series made in Sweden and Denmark[1], was the invention of independent and convincing modern characters. Designed like contemporary modern men and women in democratic societies in Europe, these characters are created as active parts of stories dealing with the challenges we have to face today in Europe, not just in the single country that action is situated in. Female and male characters were arranged to act on eye-level, not only in the action but as well within their dramaturgical impact. In these productions men and women have to solve same problems, on duty and at home with their families. The stories were dealing with current levels of crime—from trafficking, terrorism, to international acting mafia-like organizations. The family life of the detectives as part of the action were set as a dialectic contrast to the crime stories to be investigated by them. Thus, these productions still inherited a moment of hope, of normality, the utopian moment of modern, democratic, civilized society.

Consequently, they were filmed in a more modern or postmodern aesthetic[2]. No false illusion of realism or naturalism is given the way these productions are designed.[3] To count here are productions like Forbydelsen (DAN 2007-2012) or Arne Dahl, 1st Season (S 2011), The Bridge (S/DAN 2011-) and Wallander (S 2005-), or to mention another series, Jockare än Vatten (S 2014).

New productions are released, designed in a way it is obvious they want to follow the trend, and to participate in the success productions mentioned above have had achieved internationally. Those two to be discussed within this essay were expected with high hopes or rather announced as high-quality Noir-like productions. First example to be discussed in this post, is the BBC production From Darkness—broadcasted during the last weeks.

From Darkness was classified as a “psychological crime-drama”[4]. It was announced to be a dark thriller with a strong female protagonist. To call this character a ‘Strong Woman’, means to show that female character acting outside social rules, unable to become an acceptable member of the bourgeoisie society. (Stutterheim, 2015b) Claire Church (Anne-Marie Duff) is a blond, athletic Ex-Detective; one can see here borrowings by Sara Lund (Forbydelsen) and Saga (The Bridge), to be worked out but a character completely different from both role models. The design of the whole production is dark, but the crime is the usual TV crime—tortured and murdered prostitutes. All together we are again confronted with helpless and emotional overacting women in high numbers throughout the four episodes of the mini series.

With this text no full analysis can be given, but some central aspects discussed from a dramaturgical point of view for this production, and in opposition to the above already mentioned productions, make this misogynistic. First is the design of the main character Claire Church, her motives for behaving and acting given within the story; second the murder, her character and motives; third the crime and the victims; another aspect to be discussed this way is the last sequence of the season. Before starting the analysis I want to keep in mind that characters are always designed to support the overall idea, they are written to service the action, they are neither real nor independent deciding human beings. (Stutterheim, 2015a)

Claire Church (Anne-Marie Duff) as a former police officer is a runner. Is she training for ‘Iron Men’, or running away or running her trauma through she suffered along that case 15 years ago? Already the first sequence shows the character Claire after woken up by a bad dream and fleeing the husband joint bed, running, intercut with pictures of prostitutes and tortured women. Within the second sequence, a body is to be found, marked by a red high heel, and setting of the detective and his assistant driving to the new home of Claire Church, who 15 years ago was in charge of the case of a missing prostitute, a less important case. The detective went away after the case was closed without solving it. For some reasons her former superior kept the file in his archive. Now he comes to her new place somewhere in Scotland to pick her up. An Island with rough landscape, a loving husband and stepdaughter are her new home.

Clara is slightly shocked by meeting her former superior unexpectedly again. Filmed in front of a mirror it takes her time and a pill to overcome her physical reaction to this encounter. Later she resists all his demands and luring until he forces her to go with him. The character of Claire Church is designed as an external closed and rough person, hiding her emotions to everyone. This is set in contrast to her husband, a loving father and caring husband. She has to take antidepressants.

Back in Manchester she becomes heavily involved in the investigation, as some consultant or external investigator and as target as well. The antagonistic character is a woman who is suffering a trauma after she was raped 15 years ago, but not murdered. She has been first mistaken for being a prostitute, and survived, but hating since then the young female detective Claire Church. In a flashback it is told that this Claire Church and her partner arrived at the scene, Claire promising to the surviving victim to come back to help her, but on her way back young Claire forgot this completely, and went away kissing her partner instead of helping the raped woman. No one else had this victim in his or her mind either. This sequence makes the new series of killings a personal revenge of one woman to another woman, and just as well the young detective a woman more driven by desire than being professional. To increase this designed side of the character of Claire, it is told that she became pregnant out of the relationship with her superior detective. She was not brave enough to tell him this, but quitted her police career, and attempt suicide, survived, but lost her baby. This situation shows that character in a different dramaturgical approach to most of the female detectives in Scandinavian Noir Productions. Those characters are worked out in a way, that they either become mothers, and tries their best to find a balance between job and motherhood. Or, in a more similar situation to the constructed for the Claire character, the young female detective gave her baby, result out of a difficult and violent relationship, in the care of adoptive parents. After the couple had died, she fought him successful back.[5] Not Claire Church. This character is situated in a story constructed following and repeating traditional conservative role models as well as misogynistic clichés.

About the mentally disturbed other woman, who became a murderer after she heard the news about the discovered bodies, we get not many information. Both female characters are designed as acting out of her uncontrollable emotional apparatus and in blind revenge. John, her former partner and lover, is married, has a son, and owns a house, a car, like it should be. He never acts out of an emotional status, although he sometimes is stretching the rules a bit.

The overall construction culminates in the last sequence of the mini-series: when they—John and Claire—separately understood what happened and probably will be the next step the murder will take, the catastrophe takes place. John arrives first at the scene, and due to circumstances given with the last episode, unarmed. The murder shoots him; he is not dead, but seriously wounded, heavily bleeding. Claire arrives, first acting professional—but after she spots her former love that way, she is losing her self-control, takes the gun and shoots her enemy to death. This, she destroys not only the fictional life of Claire Church and that of her family, but also the chance to let her develop into a convincing professional female detective. She is overacting, driven by desire and emotions, absolutely unprofessional. Besides this aspect, that sequence is as well a misogynistic answer towards the end of The Killing. With first glance it seems to be similar in that way, that the female detective is killing the murderer out of a spontaneous situation. The difference is obvious: in The Killing the female detective, Sarah Lund, is a professional investigator, fighting against crime suspects, struggling with political intrigues and circumstances not always easy for women in her position. Her motivation is based in her understanding that law and professional investigations are confronted with a powerful enemy, and she as detective never ever managed to get a hold of him. That makes her kill the man. Not caused in a situation, where she herself is private and emotionally involved; not because her long ago lover is in danger. The system the character Sarah Lund worked for as professionally as possible had failed; thus, she as well is stepping out of the system, acting equally powerful. And she as a women is shown in a situation less powerful then that Old-Boys-Group, what implicitly makes a difference as well, giving the situation a more metaphoric subtext.

Literaturverzeichnis

BBC ONE. 2015. From Darkness [Online]. Available: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06h7yy4.

STUTTERHEIM, K. 2013. Überlegungen zur Ästhetik des postmodernen Films. In: STUTTERHEIM, K. & LANG, C. (eds.) “Come and play with us”. Marburg: Schüren.

STUTTERHEIM, K. 2014. Häutungen eines Genres – skandinavische Ermittlerinnen

Generic Metamorphosis – Scandinavian Investigators. In: DREHER, C. (ed.) Autorenserien II / Auteur Series II. Paderborn: Fink, Wilhelm.

WAADE, A. M. & JENSEN, P. M. 2013. Nordic Noir Production Values. The Killing and The Bridge. akademisk Kvarter. The academic journal for research from the humanities [Online], 07. Fall 2013. Available: http://www.akademiskkvarter.hum.aau.dk/UK/contact.php.

[1] WAADE, A. M. & JENSEN, P. M. 2013. Nordic Noir Production Values. The Killing and The Bridge. akademisk Kvarter. The academic journal for research from the humanities [Online], 07. Fall 2013. Available: http://www.akademiskkvarter.hum.aau.dk/UK/contact.php.

[2] cf. STUTTERHEIM, K. 2013. Überlegungen zur Ästhetik des postmodernen Films. In: STUTTERHEIM, K. & LANG, C. (eds.) “Come and play with us”. Marburg: Schüren.

[3] cf. STUTTERHEIM, K. 2014. Häutungen eines Genres – skandinavische Ermittlerinnen

Generic Metamorphosis – Scandinavian Investigators. In: DREHER, C. (ed.) Autorenserien II / Auteur Series II. Paderborn: Fink, Wilhelm.

[4] BBC ONE. 2015. From Darkness [Online]. Available: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06h7yy4.

[5] Arne Dahl, 1st season


 
 
 

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