In Order of Disappearance is a brilliant, sardonic suspense narrative about one man’s attempt to avenge his son’s murder. Though Norwegian law enforcement believes that Nils Dickman’s son was a drug addict who died from an overdose, Nils learns what really happens at the precise point his son nearly takes his own life out of despair.
The information he receives strengthens and revitalizes him. Instead of working within the bounds of the law, which have proven incompetent, he moves out alone on a relentless course to find and destroy his son’s killers. It is a particular irony that he is an immigrant from neighboring Sweden. Not only does Nils not do things the “Norwegian way,” he has just won a “Citizen of the Year Award” for faithfully plowing the roadways free of snow in the high mountains: a pathfinder who treads over the same paths for the benefit of the locals. This goodly citizen ends up helping Norway beyond its wildest expectations: freeing their terrain of a different kind of snow and the criminals who deal it. In Order of Disappearance starring Stellan Skarsgard as Nils, and directed by Hans Petter Moland, is an intricate and surprisingly dense film which is both thought-provoking and extremely entertaining to the last.
Nils (a marvelous, mild-mannered and deadly serious Stellan Skarsgard) directs his every waking moment to vigilantism with passion and intensity. In showing Nils’ transformation from average guy to hero avenger, Skarsgard, the amazing director Hans Petter Moland, and equally talented screenwriter Kim Fupz Aakeson lay bare pet cultural notions and trenchant human themes, turning them on their head. As Nils piles up the bodies in his search for the “top man,” director and screenwriter use an incredible attention to detail. With pinpoint precision, the filmmakers humorously excoriate Nordic cultural identities, lifestyles, social tropes, the criminal ethos and marriage relationships.
The scathing, acerbic humor builds in intensity to the shattering climax, which offers a resolution ironically humorous, satisfying, and totally believable. This dark, black humor is nuanced in every aspect of the film from the use and type of music, to the design of the interior scenes of the wealthy Norwegian drug lord, “The Count” (Pal Sverre Hagen), whose ill gotten drug gains have made him spoiled, entitled, meretriciously vapid and hysterically apoplectic when he mistakenly believes he is being “toyed” with by the Serbs led by godfather-like Papa (Bruno Ganz).
The director’s acute detail in revealing the characterizations is superb. The stark, white, bright, minimalistic, uber-modern home of”The Count” reflects not only stylish luxury but a very absence of warmth of soul, even though he is a professed vegetarian and does not feed his son Rune “Fruit Loops” which his former wife accuses him of doing. In contrast the Serbian drug lord Papa, is back dropped in environs which are opulent, with chandeliers, oriental carpets, dim lighting and plush, comfortable furniture, indicating his old-world style. However, Papa is as vengeful as The Count, who he is convinced has killed his only son. Nevertheless, Papa and his lifestyle are portrayed to be warmer and more human; the director and writer cleverly have set up our empathy for the old man who, like Nils, has lost an only son. The overall effect of the interiors, cultural lifestyles, base comments and actions of the Serbs pitted against the Norwegians adds humor and builds on the development of these characters, especially as they unravel and go for each other’s throats in a mistaken turf war which has unwittingly been instigated by Nils on his own mission of justice.
The filmmakers carefully juxtapose these criminals’ lifestyles with Nils’ simplistic utilitarian home, garage and workshop in the mountains, where he services his mammoth snowplows. This is a dwelling befitting of Citizen Nils. It is set in the beauty of the natural, wholesome, mountain landscape, and is a reminder of the man who changed his identity and character for his son’s sake. To beat these men, Nils must become like them, a killer. This is his new identity, and it is as frozen as the landscape he still plows The core of his former life and marriage with Gudrun are over (she leaves). In disappearing those who have killed Ingvar, his son, Nils disappears his old self. The question remains: will he be able to maintain a hold on his goodness despite all of the blood-letting that has covered his hands?
The filmmakers indicate the answer to this by the end of the film. The final result is an increasingly layered and profound examination of the human spirit and how far a father will go to maintain a higher order of justice while safeguarding innocent life. Even revenge has its own just limits.