Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): The Kingdom - "Thy Kingdom Come" (episode 2)

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Kingdom - "Thy Kingdom Come" (episode 2)


Welcome to my viewing diary for the two-season Danish miniseries The Kingdom. Every week on the same day I will offer a short review of another episode. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on December 1, 1994/written by Tómas Gislason, Niels Vorsel & Lars von Trier; directed by Morton Arnfred & Lars von Trier): If the previous episode suggested something strange was going on at Kingdom Hospital, this follow-up confirms that another world is very much present within the walls of this solid concrete block. During an operation, a patient sees the ghost of the little girl whom we glimpsed in the previous episode, and later Sigrid is able to commune with the girl via the final moments of a dying woman, who hovers between earthly and unearthly consciousness. She is able to confirm that the spirit belongs to someone who died in the hospital, after being committed in 1919. As if we weren't already convinced that something very strange is going on here, the episode ends with several surreal sequences, most notably in its final moments. An apparently dead dog raises its glowing eyes to stare down a frightened man and then we see a bloody hand leaving an ominous streak inside the window of a supposedly empty ambulance. Meanwhile, on the more mundane day-to-day level, Helmer is still struggling with staff relations. Moesgaard may be obliviously naive or brilliantly passive-aggressive, but either way  his "helpful" suggestions reveals cheerful antagonism toward the grouchy Helmer. And Helmer isn't the only beleaguered surgeon; Palle Bondo (Baard Owe) is furious when the family of a dying patient won't will him the soon-to-be corpse so that he can analyze the diseased organs and find a cure for their ailment. This pedantic professional, whom we met in the previous episode as he instructed younger doctors in an autopsy, claims a noble high ground. After all, the patient's illness is rare and it could be another decade before there's another subject to investigate. Yet between his temper tantrums and his attempts to procure the organ through the hospital's secret society, Bondo's concern is primarily egotistical rather than ethical. This impression is reinforced with wider implications when Jørgen Krogshøj (Søren Pilmark), a bemusingly offbeat medic, shows Judith Petersen (Birgitte Raaberg) where he lives. The room is tucked away inside the hospital itself and decorated with an array of little crosses, representing all of the hospital's preventable deaths. Like the silent man outside the Polish apartment block in Dekalog, Krogshøj serves as a witness to humanity (and inhumanity) but unlike Krzystzof Kieslowski's vaguely unearthly observer, Jørgen is not exactly above it all. There is a hint that the superiors and the staff are aware of what he knows, and ensure that his basic needs are met to nip blackmail in the bud. Petersen, slightly perturbed by this revelation, has her own secrets: she is pregnant, thanks to a departed doctor whom she may still love. Jørgen, who has strong feelings for her, indicates that he doesn't mind and they go to bed in Jørgen's little half-hidden grotto. Morton ("Mogge"), the younger Moesgaard, continues in his own absurd attempts at seduction, when he signs up to be a subject in Camilla's sleep studies. This is the only way he can get close to her since she has foresworn any personal contact with him whatsoever. His sneaky plan doesn't work when he is stricken by horrifying, anxious nightmares and flees the room. Even in their love lives, the characters are feeling the overwhelming spiritual pressure haunting the building itself, ready to burst forth like the blood behind the opening title.

My Response:
If the first episode took a bit of getting used to, by now I'm engaged with the characters and more fully immersed in the world. I appreciated how this episode further extended the spooky environment of Kingdom Hospital, tracing out the tale of the ghostly girl and leaping into explicitly supernatural imagery - something that (I think) couldn't merely be a hallucination or a tangential flight of fancy - when the dead dog raises its demonic head and growls. I'm also intrigued by the more human elements emerging. In addition to the two romances I summarized above, there's also the ambiguous liaison between Helmer and Rigmor Mortensen (Ghita Nørby). The only time we see anything approaching tenderness in Helmer's eyes is when he speaks softly with Rigmor outside in the hospital hallways or offices, yet when she invites him over, he falls silent, turns his back, and coldly walks away. What is their history - why does he soften up around her and, perhaps more importantly, why is she even attracted to him in the first place?! This is a good, small example of the little mysteries that glue together the big ones, drawing us further into The Kingdom's claustrophobic, but not entirely unpleasant, mini-universe. I like how the setting feels like a microcosm, much like the aforementioned Dekalog and the oft-to-be-mentioned Twin Peaks, closer to the former than the latter in the size of its chosen field (a building rather than a whole town) but closer to the latter in its ability to stick almost exclusively to that arena. Again, The Shining feels apropos here too, but in this case applying that "trapped in a haunted building" feel to a whole ensemble instead of a dysfunctional trio. Perhaps more than the first episode, this second endeavor made me acutely feel the tension within this building, the sense that it can't all hold both physically (those constant fissures) or psychologically - that something is going to break even before this short season has ended. Yet if the walls of this hospital seem more brittle and oppressive than ever, the floor has dropped out completely, allowing us to see how this limited space is limitless in time. What Kingdom Hospital lacks in breadth (sprawling, but still tightly bound), it more than makes up for in depth - historical, and paranormal.


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