One Star — Demeaning

There is no better depiction of hell than Henrik Ruben Genz’s Danish film Terribly Happy (Frygtelig lykkelig). Beginning with a sardonic parable of a village in South Jutland that was plagued with problems until villagers buried a freakish creature in their bog, the film depicts life in which evil is buried and life is emptied of morality and love.

Although the leading character is a troubled marshal named Robert Hansen (Jakob Cedergren), it’s actually the town that’s the center of the story. Having had a mental break, Robert is assigned the town, in which “nothing ever happens.” But as we quickly realize, it’s a town in which many skeletons are not only buried beneath the surface, but monstrous behaviors are lurking down there as well.

Far from the eyes of outsiders, the inhabitants have created a culture in which love is absent and redemption is unavailable. Though there is a physician and a priest, both are vacuous examples of their promised help. The lack of love and care is seen when everyone knows that the violent Jorgen Buhl (Kim Bodnia) is beating his wife, Ingerlise (Lene Maria Christensen), but they do nothing about it, eventually explaining that they would not miss them if they were gone.

This indifference to the fate of our fellow human beings creates not just emptiness, but an evil that takes whatever love or care exists and suffocates it. This is depicted both literally and symbolically throughout the film.

For a community to be a place where an injured policeman or a battered wife can find life, there must mutual caring and a willingness to act. Neither are present in this soulless town and, as the ending so carefully demonstrates, it is a place from which one does not escape.

Though some question whether hell is an actual place in which those who care nothing about one another must spend eternity, the artists who created this film have shown us just such a place. The fact that it claims to be based on actual events is something that should give us all pause.


» The belief that you can bury things in a bog and make everything all right is similar to the dysfunctional belief that one can overcome pain and grief through denial. Have you ever denied the reality of your own sinful action or the sins of others? What happened in you and in your life?

» The support of the town to cover up his murder caused Robert to become their captive. Have you ever experienced a similar thing in which you became a captive of someone or something?

» Would you live in a village like this? If not, how would you get out?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit