SUPERPOSITION. The Shining in Danish Woods

Jan Brzozowski

9 November 2023

It starts like Stanley Kubrick’s famous horror film. Aerial shot of a car traveling through the forest thicket. Inside, a young couple with a several-year-old child. Teit (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard) and Stine (Marie Bach Hansen) decided, like Jack Torrence forty years earlier, to cut themselves off from civilization in order to pursue their own artistic projects in peace and quiet, in a complete wilderness. She is an aspiring writer and he is a popular podcaster who makes money by sharing stories from his life. As you can easily guess: the forest idyll soon turns into a juicy psychodrama, fueled by unhealed wounds from the past and a closely related supernatural thread.

If Karoline Lyngbye took her starting point – consciously or not – from Kubrick, the development of her story is closer to the social satires of Ruben Östlund. It’s basically the same thing – pointing out the Scandinavian bourgeoisie. A quick glance under the hood of an ideal upper-class couple is enough to reveal pretentious and condescending people. Focused almost exclusively on themselves, therefore on their own professional ambitions. The characters’ exuberant egos make their relationship resemble a constant tussle, a verbal fight for power. As a result, they both lose the other person’s emotional and physical needs from the radar. The son is also lost in all this – the last bond of Teit and Stine’s relationship, apart from force of habit.

Over time, the characters begin to feel more and more at ease among the Scandinavian fauna and flora. They grow their own vegetable garden, regain lost contact with nature during long walks, and pursue their artistic goals. We start to wonder: maybe there is still hope for them? According to all the rules of horror cinema, the idyll must be interrupted. The director takes her time in this aspect: she builds the atmosphere of anxiety carefully and methodically. He often uses a static, uninvolved camera, which gives the film the feel of a cold science experiment. It was as if the director had thrown the characters into a tightly closed terrarium and then watched them wander helplessly in search of an escape. He introduces a crisis situation, consistently bringing out the worst in his facilities. But he starts with subtle signals. Copies of Teit’s broadcasts appear in your mailbox. A mysterious light searches the forest at night. There are some people hanging around on the other side of the lake. The culmination of all these efforts is a scene in which Stine – convinced that a strange woman is watching her from behind a tree – loses her son in the forest. The repercussions of this event will be deplorable.

In the first episode of the podcast recorded in the forest, the characters state that the purpose of their stay is not only to find peace and inspiration for creative work, but also to find “themselves”. In an ironic, slightly sadistic gesture, Lyngbye decides to fulfill their request. The mirror image motif repeats itself regularly in Superposition. The camera stubbornly shows us windows, mirrors and the surface of the lake, thus preparing the ground for the main plot twist in which Teit and Stine meet their own doppelgängers. However, these are not cruel, bloodthirsty doppelgängers like in Lynch’s Twin Peaks or Peele’s Us. The innovation of Lyngbye’s idea lies in the fact that Teit and Stine come across almost exact copies of themselves – with slightly, almost imperceptibly modified biographies. When the threat lurking in the forest is revealed, Superposition evolves in genre – from a horror film to a psychological thriller with a clearly separated science fiction element. Threads of understanding begin to be established between the characters, and then – more or less expected – alliances. The stakes in this game turn out to be the care of Nemo, who is the only one who does not have a physical equivalent. We quickly begin to guess why.

Teit and Stine can look at themselves from the outside – see their body, behaviors, habits from a third-person perspective. Who among us wouldn’t like to have a similar opportunity someday? What they see terrifies and fascinates them at the same time. The narcissism embedded in the characters is beset by an internal paradox. Having a doppelganger allows, in a rather twisted way, a deeper understanding of oneself, while at the same time posing a threat to the individual’s individuality and integrity. Some of this feeling is probably experienced by people who live with their twin brother or twin sister. Brother-sister solidarity is constantly faced with the need for domination and usurpation of the “common” identity – both David Cronenberg (Inseparables) and François Ozon (Double Lover) told us about this.

Superposition is at its best when the director focuses on a sociological analysis of the characters’ absurd situation: scenes of increasingly comfortable interactions between the members of a double marriage. Unfortunately, the intrigue must eventually be solved. At a key moment, Lyngbye follows the path of least resistance, which is a pity, because the initial idea was asking for a crazier, much less safe ending. More from Östlund’s debut director than from Pelee or Kubrick. Although, if interviews are to be believed, Danish director would rather it be the other way around.

Janek Brzozowski

Jan Brzozowski

Permanently sleep-deprived, as he absorbs either westerns or new adventure cinema at night. A big fan of the acting skills of James Dean and Jimmy Stewart, and the beauty of Ryan Gosling and Elle Fanning. He is also interested in American and French literature, as well as soccer.

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