The Bridge as Expressionist Crime Drama – part one

The Bridge is an outstanding Danish/Swedish crime drama, the second series of which is currently being aired in the UK on BBC4. Watching The Bridge is an unusual and vaguely thrilling experience, as while it is clearly a crime drama (the bread and butter of televisual dramatic output) and a very good one at that, it is a crime drama that, somehow, does not really feel like a crime drama. It subtly eschews many of the conventions of the genre* and even quietly abandons many of the trappings of televisual realism in favour of heavy doses of symbolism – both visually and in terms of the writing – and evocative landscapes of washed colour. This is a programme, remember, that presented as (early) antagonists the following bunch of creepy mask-wearing eco-terrorists…


…and did so without even a trace of irony.

The programme’s use of colour is also highly notable and is responsible for much of its feel. Here is Swedish detective Saga Norén in a shot dominated by pale brown light…


…and now one in which the dominant tone turns rather more to the grey…


Colour is used in this unifying manner throughout The Bridge. Interestingly enough, many of its most visually colourful scenes take place at night.** While most crime dramas revel in the darkness, The Bridge (while certainly not avoiding this entirely) often seems more inclined to observe that the sun is weak and while it gives light, it does not really illuminate. Symbolism again.

Even The Bridge itself (the Øresundsbron that links – but does not unite – the cities of Copenhagen and Malmö; and so also the countries of Denmark and Sweden) takes on a powerful symbolic existence, for it is not just the site of the crime scene that kicked off the first series, but of the personal tragedy that was the genesis of the crimes of that series and of the dramatic denouement of the tragedy that ended it. It has also taken on various roles in the second series, including a distinctly haunting one:


It is hard not get the impression that this is an image create to demonstrate feeling. Feeling, in fact, feels to be of paramount importance in The Bridge. Many of the most extreme feelings (particularly in the second series) are expressed by the Danish detective Martin Rohde, who’s personal tragedy (the murder of his son as an act of vengence by a former Copenhagen police colleague turned serial killer) casts an immense shadow over the second series:


The feeling being expressed here is pain, emotional pain. And while the issue of emotional pain has thus far been displayed most thoroughly through the character of Rohde, there are signs*** that it may also be about to be the case with Norén (who has already pointedly observed – after being subject to repeated snide verbal abuse from another officer – that she can be ‘hurt’ too) as well. Personal tragedy creates feelings of loss and pain: that this fact is clearly central to a crime drama is as intriguing as it is unusual.

Could we, perhaps, use the word angst?

I would normally tend to avoid doing so (and will refrain from typing out that word again), but when all of this is taken together for one moment, and when all of the implications are considered for another moment…. well… am I completely mad or does all of this sound a little bit Expressionist?

Further consideration of that point (Expressionism, not my sanity), will be continued in another post…

*One thing The Bridge certainly isn’t is a whodunit: the viewer is never given the sort of information required to rationally work out what’s going on and this is clearly a conscious decision and not lousy writing. Besides there’s never even really an implicit list of possible suspects or red herrings – at least not in a strictly conventional sense – and you can’t have a whodunit without that.

**Because electricity creates brighter – and harsher – light than the sun. Its unusual to see this reflected on television.

***Six episodes in.

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