In a basement apartment in Reykjavik, Iceland, police detective Erlendur (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson) investigates the death of an old man. This investigation leads him to smaller towns in his country, asking questions from citizens who distrust the police. His job, then, requires him to be persistent towards those people who distrust him. Meanwhile, back in Reykjavik, Orn (Atli Rafn Sigurðsson) tries to find a cure for his daughter’s disease. And when his daughter dies, he traces back that illness’ genetic causes. Both Erlendur and Orn will discover what connects their seemingly separate lives. They’ll also decide what to do with the shocking information they discover.
That’s the basic premise of Mýrin, or Jar City. Writer and director Baltasar Kormákur gets this story from Arnaldur Indriðason’s crime novel. His skills here show why he gets on director shortlists in Hollywood. This privilege got him to make movies about the dichotomies within human nature. One of his projects include the On the Job remake that I hope still happens. This movie also makes for an interesting entry in TIFF’s Icelandic retrospective. Most of these movies have protagonists who wear their working class male values on their sleeves. These movies also serve as a continuation for trends that eventually blow up on an international level.
Mýrin, for example, played in Icelandic theaters before their Swedish neighbors released the Millennium Trilogy films. There’s a connective tissue between how Detective Erlendur and Lisbeth Salander uncover decades old crimes. Erlendur is a great character, but we can’t say the same thing about Orn. He mourns his daughter, which makes some of his decisions understandable, although Mýrin slightly protracts this period of his life. His obsession with genetics is one he shares with his fellow Icelanders, one that the movie handles problematically. Orn leads Erlndur to the titular jar city, preserving the head of the murder victim’s long dead daughter. And the first meeting between the two protagonists is one of the film’s missteps.
The film eventually frames Orn as a full on crypt keeper, unable to hide his macabre obsessions. Mýrin has deterministic and fatalistic streaks, as Orn concludes that his past is a hindrance from him having a future. That viewpoint is one that many people can disagree with. But the act alone of confronting his past and its patriarchal values gives this movie a pass. Orn isn’t the most perfect character. But the younger Sigurðsson takes advantage of his physicality to add to the film’s tension. This movie also shows that there’s more to crime films than the revelation of a big secret. Orn and Erlendur’s actions show that character drives this film and not its shocking plot points.