Wayward Heroes: Our Review of ‘Under the Glacier’

Posted in Movies, Retrospective, Theatrical by - May 26, 2019
Wayward Heroes: Our Review of ‘Under the Glacier’

Gudný Halldórsdóttir’s Under the Glacier has it share of flaws. But it shows that movies can derive comedy from ambiguity and perception. This is an adaptation of a novel from Halldórsdóttir’s father, Nobel Prize winner Halldór Laxness. And it starts out with a meeting between leaders of different Christian sects. They’re discussing the most important problem that Christianity is facing. They have many problems, sure, but the one that won out comes from a bishop who has a taped report. The film eventually shows Umbi (Sigurdur Sigurjónsson), the person making the report. The bishop sent him to Pastor Jon Primus (Baldvin Halldórsson). Jon works in a village at the foot of the Snaefellsjökull glacier. He collects the church’s pension without answering the former’s letters. When Umbi gets to the village, he discovers an inactive parish.

Umbi also finds a town with surprisingly diverse habits and religious beliefs. There is an affinity between Icelandic comedy and its Canadian counterparts. Both get many of its jokes from its quirky characters playing out minor social conflicts. Umbi has a perpetual bewildered expression when facing these townsfolk, who keeps calling him Bishop despite insisting that he’s only an emissary. One of the people he meets includes one of a few mysterious female characters. He thinks is Jon’s wife but is actually just a baker. Apparently in this small town, the only thing people eat is cake. Umbi asks the baker for fish, which inexplicably offends the latter’s sensibilities. Even a country that has 12% of Toronto’s population has clashing eating habits. Sometimes the quirkiness gets into esoteric territory, and scenes eventually end with actors yelling.

Despite these tendencies, this is deeper than your average comedy. There are many jokes about small town group think or lack thereof. And underneath those jokes are main conflicts between the personal and the religious, between Iceland’s pre and post-Christian identity. Under the Glacier expresses that crisis within Jon. He may or may not have stopped his religious practice because of a broken heart. It also subtly incorporates elements from different genres. This film gives us magic realism, romance, and tonal shifts. And it finally introduces us to another mysterious female character, Jon’s wife Ua (Margrét Helga Jóhannsdóttir). One more character makes this film merrier and more interesting. Umbi went to the edge of the world only to discover something else. That that place was a few steps away from magic.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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