Film Notes: The Oath (2016) by Baltasar Kormákur

In The Oath (Eiðurinn), a father has to take extreme measures to save his daughter. But under this guise, it is actually about a violent father and son relationship.

3.5 out of 4 stars

Father and Son

There is a scene in The Oath that defines the rest of the film. In it, Finnur’s prisoner tells him that they have a thing in common. Both of their fathers used to be very violent on them. The prisoner, the boyfriend of Finnur’s daughter, goes further. He tells Finnur that he knows that this house was the very place where Finnur’s dad used to beat him up. Therefore, for Finnur, this is basically a roleplay. Indeed, when Finnur had walked into this room at the very beginning, he had taken a good look around. This place haunts him forever.

Finnur (Baltasar Kormákur) is a successful doctor whose life revolves around his family, made up of wife and two daughters. The older daughter, Anna (Hera Hilmar), is from his previous marriage. It doesn’t take us long to realize that she has serious psychological issues. But that is not the real problem. Anna brings along her boyfriend Óttar (Gísli Örn Garðarsson) to have dinner with her family. Óttar has a very bad temper, eyes Finnur’s wife, and deals with drugs. Finnur gets convinced that Óttar should get away from his daughter’s life. But the real question is, what line will he cross to achieve this end?

As Finnur and Óttar’s violent relationship develops, all the other characters go to the background. At the end of the film, Finnur tells Anna that he had to do this for her. But by then, we have realized that the daughter was just an excuse. Finnur had to do this because he is the father who has to teach his mischievous son a lesson.

Order in the House

I had read somewhere that a child while experiencing extreme violence can inculcate a new identity to tolerate this trauma. This occurs when the person in their current state cannot take the violence anymore. This new psychological identity helps them endure. But due to this, they become patients of Dissociative Identity Disorder. Finnur might not have gone to that extent. But to endure and find the meaning of this violence, he might have started empathizing with his father. The result was a violent father and son relationship where the father made a strong impact at a subconscious level in the mind of the young Finnur.

But this person remained suppressed under the Finnur that liked order. The film frequently shows human organs. The human body here symbolizes human fragility. But also, the organs are representatives of order. As long as these organs are in order, chaos is avoided. Finnur treats the human body in different ways depending upon where he is. Before the world, he gladly takes the responsibility for the safety of the body. Hidden from it, he becomes someone else.

Through the Glass Darkly

Kormákur uses windows to indicate the stark differences between these two worlds. Throughout the film, Finnur is on this side of the window, looking outside and judging the world. The long, straight road cutting through the layers of snow symbolizes Finnur’s detachment from society. Like this road, he is someone different. Since he understands the human body, he has the right to disrupt it. His punishment for Óttar thus is a slow and painful process. For Finnur, it is about the method and not the outcome. But in the end, he is outside of the window, being looked at and judged.

As he rides through the dark road surrounded by the heavy snow, it becomes clear to us that Finnur’s actions are the result of compulsion. It is a natural determination that has entered into his system years ago and did not find a route to release itself till now. Much like the walls enclosing him, he is a prisoner of this compulsion. Likewise, Kormákur plays Finnur mainly through his restrained eyes that reveal determination and impulse. All humane emotions of Finnur get dominated by this natural urge for disruption as Kormákur restrains every other emotion from revealing itself. As Óttar, Garðarsson brings a balance of violent inclinations and natural fears. Óttar might be the bad guy here, but he is more like us than Finnur is.

As a filmmaker, Baltasar Kormákur presents powerful emotions with dialogue-heavy scenes. But he states his point with the utmost subtlety that indicates a lack of self-consciousness. In the last shot, as Finnur walks off the screen, his idea of himself gets perfectly clear. He had to do what he did to heal himself, because he is a victim.


film notes: and breathe normally (2018)

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