Troubled Water by Erik Poppe – Opening Night Film

by Cherie Spaulding

On the stage of the Traverse City Opera House Tuesday, director Erik Poppe discussed his film Troubled Water which screened at the 5th Annual Traverse City Film Festival opening night. After the film debuted, Poppe took the stage for a question and answer session. Attendees, relaxed in their air-conditioned seats, longing to understand the inspiration and nuances of the Norwegian director’s potent, courageous film.

Audience members were quickly reminded that art imitates life. Recalling the death of his younger cousin, the director explored the idea of what life after a prison sentence might be like for a young man involved in crime that ended fatally with the loss of a young boy. Poppe was interested in what may have happened to the young man, after prison, and wondered how he would have reconstructed or reintegrated himself into society. He also examined the experience of the mother, plagued by guilt, and the victim’s family, whose loss pervaded their thoughts and challenged their ability to survive years later.

As melancholy as it sounds, the movie was powerful and the message was as far from hopeless as the Norway is from Traverse. Anyone disinclined to forgive, may not enjoy the concept, but those who believe in the human potential for goodness and the redemptive power of forgiveness will come to recognize this film as a gift of hope–not just for an individual soul, but for the human collective entirely. Steeped in the traditional Christian culture of Northern Europe, while simultaneously honoring the freedom to explore subjects of depth, the film should resonate with both liberal and conservative audience members.

Screening the film in Traverse City seemed an effective place as any to drop your atomic bomb of hope. Sitting next to the director’s wife, I listened as local movie goers greeted and thanked her for the film’s contribution and her families presence at the festival. At one point she leaned over and said to me, Norway is not like this at all. People are not so friendly, and she held her prayer-prone hands to the sides of her eyes as blinders, illustrating a feeling of being closed off from others. I have never been to Norway, but I had to agree about the friendliness of my fellow Michiganders. Fans were inviting she and her husband for dinner, which may or may not have included a pie. And knowing Midwestern hospitality, I knew they were completely serious.

Choosing Troubled Water as the opening film was bold and intelligent. I felt that Michael Moore was saying, this ain’t no joke, guys. This thing called life, it is supposed to be good. There is potential in every moment, sometimes you just have to wade through the tough stuff, forgive yourself, and get busy living, ya know. I think the film selection also reflected Moore’s trust in the sophistication of his audience. Troubled Water ain’t for sissies. If you have ever a child escape your sight or lost someone close to you in a tragic way, or otherwise, this film will evoke emotion. And while most of us have never been paroled from a murder sentence, almost all of us have withheld forgiveness from another, or ourselves, or missed the chance to say goodbye to someone we loved.

Photo credit: The great son of Grünerløkka (Erik Poppe) by annestinej


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