Cracking jokes about the Holocaust, xenophilia, sexual abuse, and other taboo subjects is what writer/director Anders Thomas Jensen does throughout Adam’s Apples – the finale of his outsiders trying to fit in trilogy of films that began with Flickering Lights and The Green Butchers. Of course, having seen the two previous films the unconcealed dark humor wasn’t really that much of a surprise. What Jensen has done, and continues to do, well is the fashioning of a very straightforward and punctuating narrative that differs from other ‘indie’ films that tend to include narrative peculiarities that are brought in to create more realistic characters. But Jensen has never really labored toward realism in his films, believing that it is the delivery of the message that counts, not the way it’s delivered.
In fact, Jensen wants us to notice the lack of realism and he wants us to utilize it in our mind in order to get his final spiritual message. But here is where the trouble comes. Jensen sometimes gets too involved in trying to surprise us with his overt humor that can ignite negativity because of its racist and violent undertones, and because a lot of the time it is more than just dialogue that is on screen concerning those controversial things, but also imagery that, while nowhere near as extravagantly explicit as something you may find in a Lars von Trier movie, may cause an uncomfortable mind-twitch in more sensitive audience members.
Because of that and the film’s refusal to focus on anything thematic in particular that surrounds his main characters, his message of spirituality still existing even in the mind of a skinhead, is tragically lost and incomplete. It is almost like we are witnessing mere glimpses of a hidden, but essential part of the film. Because if the people who say that the message is half of the movie are correct, this film fails to live up to that half of the bargain. It tells the story of a neo-Nazi Adam (Ulrich Thomsen) who is sentenced to community service in a church , headed by a devoted priest Ivan (41 year-old Mads Mikkelsen playing a character that is double that age) who truly believes Adam can become one of God’s children again with a simple change of mind.
You have to take an educated guess as to the exact message Jensen is sending with Adam’s Apples. In my opinion, this is a pro-religion film, more specifically pro-Christianity, unless Jensen wants to make a statement about how easily people like Adam are forgiven for their horrid sins. Honestly, this film can be interpreted in many ways and in its case it is a double-edged sword. One wishes that Jensen was as clear as his good friend von Trier about his message, whose Manderlay traded humorous dialogue for one with substance.
Said dialogue is delivered strangely by the actors, as Jensen seems to want to go exactly the opposite direction of von Trier’s theatrical spectacles that he calls performances, and instead goes for the most under emphasized and emotionless acting since Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Of course, this style of overtly-method deliver gets old quickly, and Jensen risks a lot of watch-checking in dialogue scenes. The actors do their best with this style, with Mads Mikkelsen being the most emotionless of them all. As Adam, Ulrich Thomsen is more successful, but only because he plays such a flawed character, that he succeeds on that alone
Technically, Adam’s Apples is just fine, with the highlight being the cinematography which takes a top down view of many scenes, which is obviously done to simulate a kind of God’s eye view. But this technique is not used often enough to support his message, and what should be viewed as an example of genius, is actually a missed opportunity. Still, the film is at times beautiful and ugly, adding to its unfocused structure and varying palette full of greens and reds.
Overall, I give this film a weak recommendation. It contains most of what a normal movie-goer looks for in a film, but its packaged in a way that makes it unlikeable, but never forgettable. This is especially recommended though, to fans of the Dogme movement and Danish cinema in general. It practically symbolizes what the Danish film industry is all about.