Department Q: The Keeper of Lost Causes (Kvinden i buret) (2013) by Mikkel Nørgaard

Department Q The Keeper of Lost Causes (Kvinden i buret) (2013) by Mikkel Nørgaard

The offhand exchanges give a new dimension to this straightforward typical detective mystery thriller movie. They also contribute to evoking the rawness of Carl’s character, which justifies some of the genre clichés seen here.

3.5 out of 4 stars

The first installment of the Department Q series, from the novels of Jussi Adler-Olsen, is an engaging thriller. Sometimes that is all that you need from a film. I think someone in Hollywood, I don’t remember who, but someone did say that all you need from a film is to keep the viewer engaged for a couple of hours. This film does exactly that. It tries to be a bit more, but it doesn’t need to be. And that is why it works.

Differences in the familiar

From the start, nothing in the film is unfamiliar. Its development is like any straightforward police detective story. You have Carl Mørck, a hard-hitting cop who, like always, isn’t liked by his colleagues. His bosses find him arrogant and disrespectful. Carl loves to break rules. He breaks one rule and enters a house without waiting for backup. Someone hidden suddenly starts shooting. One of his friends dies, while another colleague suffers grave injuries. Carl himself too isn’t unhurt. But the situation is enough to make the guns pointed at him feel reassured of their target.

Now, what I loved about this considerably familiar introduction is how little it cares for what type of a person Carl actually is. He isn’t a coconut. He is what you make of him on the surface. Throughout the film, Carl remains this guy. That his colleagues suffered because of his decision never really bothers him. So, when you see his bosses become furious at him, you realize that they might really have some grounds against him. That Nikolaj Lie Kaas plays Carl as a disgruntled alienated guy doesn’t help Carl’s cause either. But it does help develop the essence of his character. Looking at Carl, you will have a hard time imagining him smile.

An argument from ignorance

You might then think what can make a guy like him get motivated towards a case when he is not supposed to. Due to Carl’s injuries, his bosses tell him to take a desk job somewhere down in the basement of the building. It is about looking into cold cases and documenting them. It’s obvious that Carl will like to get back to the field. A story trying to pull emotions towards its protagonist detective would have wanted a case about giving justice to the innocent.

Here, Carl gets attracted to a suicide case. Merete Lynggaard (Sonja Richter) had supposedly committed suicide while taking a ride on a ship. However, the situation is a typical example of an ‘argument from ignorance’. Such arguments are formed because nothing else shows that these arguments are false. Merete was accompanied by a brother who’s brain-damaged. He cannot throw some facts that oppose the suicide scenario. Nobody else on board saw anything abnormal either. So it is presumed that she committed suicide. Though nobody actually saw her doing so.

But Carl isn’t drawn to the case because of this aspect. To understand his motivation, one has to look at the victim Merete Lynggaard. Merete is a beautiful woman. More importantly, she is successful and rich. This makes her a woman of significance. At parties, people gather around her. Why would a person like her commit suicide? It’s not as if she is Carl, who feels ignored and sidelined. I am guessing if this case wouldn’t be there, Carl would have contemplated suicide. The first few shots of the film indicate that his spirit was already declining, rendering him restless. His current situation was to be the final blow. But the case saved Carl.

What are you not telling?

Defying the instructions of his seniors, Carl dives into the case. He is helped by Assad (Fares Fares). Assad’s presence brings an underlying religious tension into the narrative, which is not unseen before. As opposed to Carl, Assad is, obviously, the tender one. Together, they peel the layers of a case that by the end, feels more like a video game pursuit. But the narrative is helped immensely by what the characters aren’t telling. In the basement, where Carl feels hopeless, Assad is optimistic. He has finally been given a chance. The contrast hints at what life actually can be. Assad tells Carl that he cannot imagine the horrors Assad has seen. Carl, being Carl, instructs Assad at one point to come behind him into a building. The people know about Assad’s kind only through television, he says.

Such dialogues do not really tell something, but their implications do the work. Likewise, the bonhomie between Carl and Assad plays off tangentially. ‘Worse than your coffee’, Carl tells Assad while having a cup in a hospital. The offhand exchanges thus give a new dimension to this straightforward typical detective mystery thriller movie. They also contribute to evoking the rawness of Carl’s character, which justifies some of the genre clichés seen here. There are three more films of this series which I haven’t yet seen. But if they are similar to this one, they should keep making more.

Credits (from IMDb):
Directed by

Mikkel Nørgaard

Written by

Jussi Adler-Olsen … (novel)
Nikolaj Arcel … (writer)
Nikolaj Arcel

Cinematography by

Eric Kress

Editing by

Morten Egholm
Martin Schade


Lost Bullet (Balle perdue) (2020) by Guillaume Pierret

Lost Bullet (Balle perdue) (2020) by Guillaume Pierret

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