The young and the disposable

If you managed to sit through the most recent Academy Awards ceremony, you might recall that an Iranian movie called The Salesman won the award for Best Foreign Language Film. The director, Asghar Farhadi, received a disproportionate share of attention because Iran was included in President Trump’s travel ban.

So the media chatter pertaining to the foreign language category was more about politics than the movies. And that’s a shame because one nominee, a Danish production called Land of Mine, is a bona fide red pill movie that didn’t get as much attention as it deserved.

In a sense, Land of Mine is a war film; in another sense, it is not. There is not one combat scene in the movie, but it takes place after the downfall of Germany in 1945. Towards the end of the war, the wehrmacht was running out of men so adolescents were pressed into service. The film concerns a group of young German POWs who are ordered to dig up land mines planted by their countrymen on the west coast of Denmark in anticipation of an Allied invasion that went elsewhere, namely Normandy.

The boys look like high school seniors or college freshmen, about as far removed from the Nazi high command as possible, yet their presence is deeply resented, even though they are clearly risking their lives to benefit the locals. After five years of German occupation, such an attitude is understandable.

The boys are assigned to a beach where 45,000 land mines have been placed. Every day the teenage bomb squad crawls along the beach, literally inch by inch, probing for and defusing land mines one by one. The work is mind-numbingly tedious – but one dare not let one’s mind wander.

It’s a given that some will not make it; it’s just a question of how many. But remember, the 14 boys who are assigned to it are erstwhile enemy soldiers, so who cares? They’re the perfect employees for a thankless job. They are disposable.

The boys are under the command of one Sergeant Rasmussen, a Dane whose hatred for all things German is established early in the film. We’ve all seen movies with drill sergeants who browbeat their troops, but those troops are usually grown men. True to form, Rasmussen showers the boys with abuse, but as the days pass and casualties mount, he starts to mellow. He doesn’t quite bond with them, but he can’t help but draw closer to them.

The boys are housed in a dilapidated shack, refused food, and still expected to put in a day’s work. Over time, it appears that the land mine project is as much about exacting revenge against the most vulnerable members of a vanquished foe as it is about clearing the beach.

As with all non-coms, the sergeant is the medium between the grunts and the officers. Eventually, Rasmussen becomes an advocate for the boys’ welfare in defiance of the allied officers in command.

The film is fiction but is based on the fact that some 2,000 German POWs were utilized for removal of land mines on Danish beaches. Approximately half of them were killed or maimed in the process, and many were teenagers.

In our giddy punch-a-Nazi era, it is astounding to see a film that does not demonize German soldiers. In fact, the film invites us to sympathize with them. Since they are adolescent boys, the abuse is far more disturbing than it would be for adult men.

As I mentioned, the film is based on fact, but can you imagine what might have happened to adolescent Danish girls who had fraternized with German soldiers? They might have been subject to some sort of postwar shaming, possibly having their heads shaved. No one would even think of assigning them to a task with such a high likelihood of death or dismemberment.

But you can’t blame women for what happens in this movie. The abuse of young men is carried out by older men; indeed, the film’s theme could be described as man’s inhumanity to young men. If there is any male privilege in this film, it means victorious older males lording it over defeated younger males. In fact, there is only one woman, a Danish housewife, in the entire movie. She is no fan of the Germans, but she does not set policy.

I saw this movie on a weekday afternoon, so the audience was small. Nevertheless, I heard occasional sniffles coming from a mature woman, likely a mother, sitting behind me. I suspect she envisioned her own son(s) in such a perilous situation.

An older man might watch this movie and imagine his son in such a situation, or he could also see himself as a younger man. It would be interesting to see how an audience of high school boys reacts to the film.

It would also be interesting to see how an audience of social justice warriors would respond to this movie. Would they cheer every time a land mine shredded a young man? After all, they are not only men, they are Nazi soldiers! So by definition they deserve what they get! No more Aryan privilege for you, you Nazi scum!

Much like The Red Pill, Land of Mine will need positive word of mouth if it is to attract an audience. You won’t see it advertised in the mass media. Unless you live in a large metropolitan area, it probably won’t play in a local theater, so you’ll have to track it down later on DVD or NetFlix.

Unfortunately, a nomination for best foreign film of the year is more likely to turn off rather than attract the typical American moviegoer, who is more interested in blockbusters involving superheroes or events that happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Land of Mine has no heroes. You might root for the boys, but for them, triumph is relative; they cannot prevail but some might survive. There is no chance they will rise up and kick the collective ass of their captors. No high fives at the conclusion of this conflict.

If you look for Land of Mine in cyberspace and can’t find it, bear in mind that it’s Danish title is Under Sandet, literally Under the Sand. That sounds like a rather pedestrian title, but it does reflect one of the film’s undercurrents. No matter how much you enjoy a day at the beach, once you’ve seen this movie, you’ll never think of sand and surf the same way.

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