Of Nazis and Grace – Adam's Apples
Danish director Anders Thomas Jensen's Adam's Apples probably could not have succeeded with admittedly talented directors such as Quentin Tarantino and the Coen brothers (even though Jensen seems at times to be channeling their respective muses).
Adam Pedersen (Ulrich Thomsen) is a neo-Nazi released from prison to a Lutheran parish serving both as a small community of faith and halfway house. His tattoos, demeanor, and especially his framed picture of Adolf Hitler demonstrate to the world that this “egg-head” (the derisive term applied to him by the gas station-robbing-Saudi, Khalid) has no use for Jesus, Jews or Muslims. Adam wants to finish his sentence with as little bother as possible so he can get back to the various sorts of business that European skinheads presumably attend to.
Fate or God or the Devil intervene with Adam's simple plan and he soon finds himself on a kind of quest to destroy the faith of the ultra-optimistic pastor, Ivan (Mads Mikkelsen). For Ivan, the glass is not merely half-full, but brimming over. Every difficulty and misfortune is shown in an impossibly positive light: the drunken Gunnar (Nicolas Bro) is “a reformed alcoholic,” Khalid no longer robs gas stations although he still does, and Ivan's son who is bound to a wheel-chair with palsy is constantly active and playing in the yard. Adam sees this obvious disconnect between what Ivan sees and what really exists and it enrages him.
There is a subtle irony here as the Nazis were famous (or infamous) for their inability to see the humanity of their victims even when face-to-face with them or as their remains fell like snow from the crematoria.
Nevertheless, Adam makes it his mission to destroy Ivan. The method seems to be suggested by the Devil who is off-stage throughout the film but quite active. The method is one familiar to readers of the New Testament: Adam will use the, word of God to tempt Ivan to give up his faith. On several occassions the Bible which Ivan has given Adam falls open to the Book of Job. Adam finally takes Lucifer's none too subtle suggestion to read Job and from this Old Testament tale of loss and temptation Adam cobbles a plan to bring down Ivan.
The plan is startlingly simple: to convince Ivan that all of his misfortunes are the fault not of the Devil but of God Himself “who hates you.” Adams relentlessness finally breaks Adam who begins bleeding from his ears and falls into a coma. If only to avoid a charge of homicide, Adam takes Ivan to the local medical clinic. Ivan recovers from the physical trauma but the spiritual damage is infinitely great: Ivan has completely lost his faith in God and suddenly has no use for the image of God either. And he has a meddlesome brain tumor to contend with, which is on the verge of killing him.
Ivan's change is so radical that it deeply disturbs Adam. He sees that Gunnar and Khalid – whom he has no use for according to the tenets of Nazism for one is a useless drunkard and complete moral degenerate, and the other a subhuman “Paki” Muslim – are distraught and disoriented. His plan has worked too well: he sought to teach Ivan a lesson but suddenly Adam finds his own world is being destroyed as well. Ivan's faith was not reasonable but it was the bedrock of a community of misfits. A community in which Adam too was accepted and loved.
Deciding that he might as well bake the cake that was his community service project, Adam heads to the scorched apple tree that was struck by lightning. He and Khalid attempt to salvage enough apples for a modest pie. Just then Adam's old pals arrive and unleash a train of insults at Adam and question why he would be in the presence of a “sand nigger.” Khalid, who we learned earlier in the film is a decent marksman has no patience with this racists and the gang leaves wounded and angry and humiliated. Later Ivan confronts the same group of neo-Nazis who are causing a ruckus. He says he doesn't care who they kill as long as they give him peace and quiet. In a struggle for one of the Nazi's pistols, Ivan takes a bullet through the eye.
As a result, Ivan does not die but the pistol round instead removes the tumor completely. They don't ALL live happily ever after: the cynical Doctor Kohlberg (who egged-on the egghead Adam to mock Ivan's faith) finds himself leaving his practice at the hospital. He raves:
I am a man of science, I believe in numbers and charts. Goddamnit, I wanna go someplace, where people die when they are sick, and don't sit in the yard eating cowboy toast when they have been shot through the head.
This is not film that helps one understand the relationship between faith and reason, but it does illustrate that God can take our worst intentions and motives, and transform them into something beautiful. If this Adam can become a new Adam, why not us?