“They only shoot the bad guys, right?”
When Susanne Bier’s Danish film Brothers begins troubled younger brother Jannik (Nikolaj Lie Kass) is released from prison. He’s met by his responsible, older brother–NATO Major–Michael Lundberg (Ulrich Thomsen). While Jannik’s mother is thrilled to see him, his father isn’t. As far as he’s concerned, Jannik is just trouble and doesn’t measure up to Michael’s worthiness as a son. Michael’s wife, Sarah (Connie Nielson) tolerates Jannik for her husband’s sake, but there’s not much love lost there either.
There’s time for just a brief tense three-generational family reunion before Michael ships off to Afghanistan. When he’s sent on a rescue mission for a wet-behind-the-ears radio operator, Michael’s helicopter is shot down, and he becomes a prisoner of the Taliban. Meanwhile back in Denmark, Michael’s family is told he’s dead. Even at Michael’s memorial service, the fractured family can’t accept Jannik.
Over time, Jannik deals with his grief by helping Sarah–remodeling the kitchen, and being an attentive uncle to Michael’s two daughters. While Sarah struggles to accept her new role as a ‘widow’, Michael suffers from some horrendous experiences at the hands of his captors.
On one level, the film deals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Michael’s failure to adjust when he finally makes it home. Burying his guilt, he’s subject to restlessness, accusations, and violent explosions. On another more complex level, the film explores the roles we all inhabit within a family structure. When one member of the family is lost, there’s a gap, but does the gap remain or is it gradually filled by survivors? In this instance, Jannik’s role within the family shifts with Michael’s absence. Does Jannik become more responsible because he’s sobered by his brother’s ‘death’ or does he become more responsible because there’s no longer the good son/bad son dynamic? Part of the film examines Michael and his father’s attempts to accept Jannik’s new role, and their discomfort with anything less than Jannik eternally scripted in the role of the wastrel son. Brothers–in Danish with English subtitles–is an excellent, moving exploration of both guilt and family dynamics.