Power Dynamics and Focalization in In a Better World

In In a Better World, the director places the viewer into the characters’ positions through his use of focalization. Most notably, the viewer finds himself watching events take place through the eyes of Christian and Elias. Their viewpoints atop the silo represent their struggle for power—as the viewer looks down at the ground, watching Christian and Elias’s potential victims scurry around unknowingly like ants, he relates himself to these boys as they formulate their plans. On the silo they are free; they can escape reality, evading the limitations of authority while somehow maintaining control and power over the peoples’ lives below them.

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These unaware, powerless people contrast the people who attempt to control and dominate Elias and Christian when not on the silo. Once level with the rest of society, these boys see their power diminish. They face relentless victimization from the school bully while witnessing the school system simply ignore and neglect to resolve it. Even their lives at home entail disorder, as Christian deals with the thought that his father supported his mother’s death and Elias struggles to find a hero in his unfaithful and often unavailable father. To add to their turbulent relations with their fathers, their respective parents’ separation from each other further worries the boys. In a world in which evil and corrupt authority figures create turmoil, the boys retreat to the “better world” on the silo. Here they begin to seek stability that, according to them, can be effectively brought about by amassing power.

Behind their parents’ backs, they construct plans to gain power over people who have wronged them and thus have power over them. Christian first attempts to gain power over the school bully by beating him with a bicycle pump and holding a knife to his throat. Christian and his power-hungry tendencies serve as a foil to Elias and his submissive nature, and Christian thinks Elias is weak for not initially wanting to blow up a van. Christian sees this weakness in Elias translate to Elias’s father, Anton, who gets slapped by another man in front of the boys. While Anton preaches to his children that the man’s assaults do not hurt and that the other man lost, Christian claims that he “does not [think] he lost,” signifying Christian’s stance that Anton is the weaker man.

Christian detests this weakness and plans to gain revenge and power by blowing up the man’s van. The viewer then wonders who actually has more power; Anton or the boys? Anton, who holds that “violence only creates more violence,” assumes a Jesus-like role in the movie and combats Christian’s perception of “power.” Perhaps he is not nearly as weak as Christian thinks. Like Jesus, Anton turns his cheek when hit rather than fights back. Also like Jesus, Anton saves numerous lives in S Africa and ultimately saves Christian’s. The director’s choice to highlight Anton’s cross tattoo on his side while he floats on his back in the lake (like Jesus, suspended on the water) furthers this similarity between him and Jesus.

At the end of the story, the movie viewer sees through Christian’s eyes again as he attempts to gain power over his own life in contemplating suicide from the top of the silo. While Christian’s clueless father tries to determine his whereabouts, Anton recognizes the silo made of legos and immediately goes to save Christian. By utilizing focalization here, the director heightens suspense and draws sympathy for Christian as the viewer looks far below at the distant ground.

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In this scene we see Christian’s helplessness and Anton’s actual possession of the power the boys strive for. Finally, as Elias returns to physical health, his parents’ relationship too regains health and stability.

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One response to “Power Dynamics and Focalization in In a Better World

  1. dscwood

    I like this post about In a Better World. I thought that this was an excellent movie, and the director did an excellent job of switching up the vantage points in the movie so that the viewer gets a good view of all of the dynamics when it comes to power. As the director is trying to compare how adults and children handle different situations of adversity, it is important to get a first hand view of how each character handles their unique adverse situations.

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