Thursday, March 20, 2014

To Get to The Other Side: The Bridge

Kim Bodnia and Saga Noren star in the Swedish-Danish series The Bridge

The TV series The Bridge, a Swedish-Danish co-production that first aired in 2011, begins with the discovery of what appears to be the dead body of a Swedish politician. He has been cut in two; the corpse is lying at the exact spot on the Oresund Bridge that marks the point where the borders of Copenhagen and Malmo meet. Sofia (Saga Noren), a Swedish homicide detective, and Martin (Kim Bodnia), a Danish detective, both arrive at the scene, and it’s only after Sofia has brashly claimed the case for herself, with Martin’s happy consent, that it’s found that the “body” is actually two halves of two different dead women. Sofia and Martin end up working together on the case, which expands as it becomes clear that a serial killer with a larger agenda is at work.

The Bridge (Danish: Broen; Swedish: Bron) has only recently become readily available to North American viewers through the streaming service, Hulu. The plot details may sound very familiar, though. Last summer, the series was remade for American TV, in a version that hewed close to the basic storyline of the original but made some major conceptual changes that rendered the final product intriguing but—despite some excellent performances, particularly Matthew Lilard’s and Annabeth Gish’s—hollow and somewhat baffling. The American version was set on the border between Mexico and Texas, and dragged in such elements as a Mexican drug cartel leader and an illegal-immigrant-smuggling operation. The specter of the people who disappear, while trying to cross the border and whose deaths go uninvestigated, hung over the show giving it an additional layer of grimness. But, to be earned, those ambitions needed to be honored and supported by the story itself—by some indication that the creative team had something they wanted to say about the border tensions. That is, the toxic effect of this on the political culture of the American Southwest, so that the setting wasn’t just chosen for the sake of its exotic color. (The adapters had originally suggested setting the North American version at the point where Detroit meets Canada.)

Diane Kruger and Demian Bichir in the US-version of The Bridge
The original version of The Bridge—which has also now spawned a French/British version called The Tunnel—has its own grim edge, but it’s lighter, more of a genre convention in keeping with other recent Scandinavian noir procedurals, such as the work of Jo Nesbo and Stieg Larsson and the Wallander series. It’s also solidly anchored by its stars, who are classically well-paired: Kim Bodnia’s Martin is grubby, fleshy, but humane, while Sag Noren’s Sofia is thin, chilly, and super-efficient. When Martin first arrives at the headquarters of the Malmö homicide squad, he’s recently had a vasectomy, and he explains that he can’t sit down because it hurts too much. Sofia asks how he got to the building, and he says he drove. She points to a chair and says, “Pretend it’s a car.” She also replies to his question about whether she has kids with, “No, why would I want to?” (He tells her that not many people would react to his question like that. “Many should have,” she says.)

Lines like that inspired speculation among fans that Sofia has full-blown Asperger’s. The show’s writer-creator, Hans Rosenfeldt, has declined to confirm or deny whether that was his intention; it may be a plausible guess, but it’s clearly not what he considers to be the most important thing about the character, and in fact, some of the evidence used to make the case, such as Sofia’s unsentimental terseness and her fondness for no-strings-attached sex with men to whom she feels no emotional attachment, would be accepted as tough-guy genre conventions if they were exhibited by the male hero of a crime thriller. Taking its cues from this, the American version turned its heroine—Sonya, played by Diane Kruger—into a strange, damaged, childlike creature, so freakishly alienated and uncomprehending of all social cues and conventions that she seemed like an alien, or like someone who’d never recovered from being abducted by one.

If you saw the American version of The Bridge, it’ll spoil some of the surprises of the original for you. But maybe there could be some compensation in getting to see what the American version thought it was doing, and must have thought it was enriching, by superimposing this story onto a major social situation—a whole world—that this story has nothing to do with. And if you haven’t seen the American version—well, seek out the original on Hulu, and count your blessings.

– Phil Dyess-Nugent is a freelance writer living in Texas. He regularly writes about TV and books for The A. V. Club.

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