“There are periods in the life of humanity, which generally coincide with the beginning of the fall of cultures and civilizations, when the masses irretrievably lose their reason and begin to destroy everything that has been created by centuries and millenniums of culture. Such periods of mass madness…often [coincide] with geological cataclysms, climatic change, and similar phenomena….” ∼ from In Search of the Miraculous by P.D. Ouspensky (1949)
A number of years ago, I was in the women’s department of Macy’s in downtown Washington, DC, searching for a winter coat. I looked up from the rack where I was browsing and first saw a flank of dark-suited men forming something of a semicircle around a distinguished-looking, elderly gentleman who was sitting quietly on a chair near the dressing room. He seemed very familiar, but I couldn’t quite place him. I then looked in another direction, saw an elegant woman winding her way through the clothes racks, and thought she was familiar as well. It suddenly became very quiet, and I had the sense that I was the only other person in the store—though I don’t think that was actually true. Then, it slowly came to me that I was just feet away from former President Jimmy Carter, former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, and a Secret Service detail. Something took me over and gave me courage and wings as I watched myself nearly fly to him and blurt out, “President Carter, you are my hero.” Until that moment, I hadn’t known I felt that way, but I surely did. And, I do still.
The 2012 Danish film A Hijacking (Kapringen), which I watched recently on Netflix, is, hands down, one of the best movies I remember seeing. Filmed in the Indian Ocean aboard an actual ship, the movie centers around the hijacking of a Danish cargo vessel by Somali pirates; yet, it is more a movie about how we come to measure the worth of a human life than it is about a particular hijacking and ransom demand, and it is more a movie about “us” than it is about “them” as we are compelled from the opening scene on to examine our preconceived ideas of right and wrong, good and bad, moral and immoral.
Søren Malling is mesmerizing in his nuanced performance as Peter, CEO of the company that owns the commandeered ship. A crisp, lean businessman and a master negotiator with a steeliness that might have rendered him a one-dimensional boor were he to have been played by a less-accomplished actor, Malling’s Peter is instead a man of compassionate, albeit conflicted, feeling who is forced by impossible circumstances to make impossible choices.
These painful choices, which include dragging out the negotiations for four months with the pirates’ negotiator Omar, never seem to be motivated by self-interest or greed though. Even when he behaves badly, as he does when he screams at his devoted wife to leave the office, we understand that his outburst comes from utter fatigue and can imagine that afterwards he will likely suffer immeasurably for this lapse into cruelty.
Similarly, Omar—played deftly by Abdihakin Asgar—defies pigeonholing. One moment, he is a menacing and sadistic terrorist; the next he is a shrewd businessman who is embroiled in the dirty affair because he needs to feed his family. The same is true for Peter’s negotiator, Connor, who, dressed in a disorienting Berkeley sweatshirt, never becomes the cold manipulator we would not be wrong to expect. Instead, Gary Skjoldmose-Porter, a real-life hostage negotiator without much, if any, acting experience, brings to the role an understated nobility and pathos.
To reflect the enormous strain the characters feel over the course of months, director Tobias Lindholm has created a movie that is ice-floe slow, claustrophobic, grimly realistic, and edge-of-the-seat suspenseful. Not once does he kowtow to an audience’s baser appetite for bloody violence, slick action, or glib answers to unanswerable questions.
Watch this interesting YouTube interview with Lindholm and Malling.