In the never-ending debate of which comes first, plot or characterization, I always find myself saying, "Plot? What's that?" which shows you pretty clearly which side of the debate I always end up on.
But when you talk about characters, you have to admit that they don't exist in a vacuum. They create plot. They give life to stories. And they do it for a reason -- for many reasons.
And those reasons can be summed up as motivation.
It's motivation that is at the core of Danish director Susanne Bier's film After the Wedding. Written by Bier and her frequent collaborator Anders Thomas Jensen, After the Wedding was one of the nominees for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2006.
It's the story of Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen), a Danish ex-pat, who runs an orphanage in India. Money is tight and benefactors are thin on the ground. When he suddenly receives an offer of support from big-bucks entrepreneur Jørgen (Rolf Lassgard), he's delighted.
But there are strings.
Jørgen wants him to come to Denmark to discuss the gift of financial support. Jacob has no desire to go back to Denmark, but it's an offer that will possibly keep the orphanage afloat for years to come. How can he refuse?
So he goes and meets Jørgen. Jacob wants to settle things and get right back to India. Jørgen has other ideas. He waffles, stalls, and says they'll continue discussing things next week. And, by the way, as long as Jacob is here, why not come to the wedding of Jørgen's daughter, Anna (Stine Fischer Christensen), that weekend . . .
Irritated, but still trying to make nice in order to get the funding, Jacob goes. And his world turns upside down.
Filmakermagazine.com says, "the film could be entitled Before, During, and After the Wedding" and this is, of course, true.
What happened before the wedding -- twenty years before -- creates the motivation for what happens after. And it is during the wedding that the first piece of the puzzle is revealed.
And even though you might know what's going on, Jørgen's reasons for inviting Jacob to the wedding are revealed so gradually that you sit literally on the edge of your chair waiting for what will happen next. And asking yourself, "Why?"
And it isn't always what you'd think.
After the Wedding is a compelling story of characters in turmoil. It asks questions about love and power and control. It reflects on good choices and bad choices. It questions the extent to which people go to manipulate the lives of others -- and why they do it. Intentions, motives -- why, why, why. And, ultimately, then what?
It's a film that echoes in the mind long after the final credits have rolled past.
Is it a romance? Well, sort of.
It was a romance before the wedding. It might become a romance after.
But during the wedding of Jørgen's daughter, and in the days just following, After the Wedding is more a story of the choices people make and the ramifications that they will live with long after.
While it focuses on one brief period in the lives of Jacob, Jørgen, and Jørgen's wife, Helena (Sidse Babett Knudsen), and daughter, Anna, what happens then is part of something much larger, something that began with choices made many years before and that will continue to ask for choices many years after.
To go into the details of the story would rob those who haven't seen it of part of the joy of watching the film develop. But in essence, After the Wedding show us that all our lives are inextricably bound together, and that no one lives in a vacuum, unaffected by their own choices and those of others.
For writers, After the Wedding, is a thought-provoking study of human choices and motivations. It's all about character.
For film-watchers in general, if you're longing for an action-thriller, this isn't the best option.
But if you want a thoughtful intriguing character study -- and a couple of hours of enjoyment of Mads Mikkelsen (who actually dragged my gaze away from Daniel Craig in Casino Royale and sent me off looking for more of his work), watching After the Wedding is a rewarding way to spend an evening.
On a scale of 1-10 romantically, it's maybe a 5. In terms of being worth watching as a film, I'd give it an 8. For emotional intensity, I'd give it a 9. For those of us who watch films for Mads, it's well worth checking out.
Speaking of which, come back on Monday January 7th and we'll continue the Mads discussion then.
Anne McAllister's most recent book was The Boss's Wife for a Week, which despite having the Chrysler Building on the cover, largely takes place in Fiji.
Her next book One-Night Love Child is a spin-off of The Great Montana Cowboy Auction, and takes place in Montana (imagine that) and Ireland. The bedspread, you will note, has green in it. Anne is delighted with the cover.
The book is coming out in March. How Irish is that?