THE INHERITANCE (Arven)
Directed by Per Fly (2003), 117 minutes
For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Matthew 16:26
A well-to-do businessman arrives in Stockholm. On the surface he is self assured and in control, yet underneath he is a man experiencing a desperate emotional and spiritual crisis that threatens to take control of his life. Similar in theme to Laurent Cantets Time Out, Danish director Per Flys The Inheritance is a penetrating look at the humane cost of serving a soulless corporation out of duty and obligation. The second in a trilogy that deals with Danish life from different social levels, it is an absorbing drama of old wealth and modern capitalism that takes us into the soul of Christoffer (Ulrich Thomsen), the wealthy son of a prominent steel magnate. Reserved, almost reticent, Christoffer hides his feelings like a surprise birthday present, but when they are unwrapped they also unravel.
In a flashback to five years ago, we learn that he is a successful restaurateur in Sweden, happily married to Maria (Lisa Werlinder), a Shakespearean actress who is offered a contract for one year at the Royal Dramatic Theater. Christoffers life is turned upside down, however, when he learns that his father Aksel (Ulf Pilgaard), the owner of the Borch-Muller steel mill, has committed suicide after concealing the companys substantial debt. Like Michael Corleone in The Godfather, he is then forced to choose between his sense of loyalty to his family and his personal freedom when his imperious mother Annelise (Ghita Norby), showing no confidence in his brother-in-law Ulrik (Lars Brygmann), insists that he take over the leadership of the steelworks.
Maria, unwilling to give up her career, pleads with him to refuse to lead the company, now almost bankrupt. Christoffer is hesitant and first agrees with his wife, but when he comes face to face with the companys employees, many of whom would have to be laid off, he capitulates and agrees to assume his fathers position. It is a turning point in his life. Though it never becomes clear where the truth lies, Christoffer hears from his associate Niels (Peter Steen) that Ulrik is spreading rumors to undermine the companys position with the bank. He is forced to fire Ulrik, precipitating a crisis with his sister Benedikte (Karina Skands) who remains steadfast in his support and refuses to have anything further to do with her brother.
When Christoffer has to dismiss 200 workers until the company can get back on its feet, it begins to affect his personality. He refuses to talk about his work with Maria and becomes totally preoccupied with completing a merger with a prominent European steelworks company. Taken aback by the callousness apparently necessary to run the business, Maria is angered by her husbands reluctance to share his problems at work and by his mother, Annelise, who tells Christoffer not to talk about his emotions. If this sounds like an episode from Dynasty, it would only be partially true. For the most part, the characters and their motivations are too nuanced and complex for it to be considered as soap opera, though unfortunately the film lapses into melodrama near the end.
The Inheritance can be viewed on several levels: as a testament to what the modern day corporation has become, a machine that inevitably gobbles up ones humanity; as the story of a selfless individual, willing to sacrifice his own happiness for his familys business; or as the sad tale of a man who is more comfortable being in a dependent relationship with his mother than in fully assuming the adult responsibilities of marriage and emotional independence. Regardless of your interpretation, The Inheritance succeeds as a compelling character study of a man who, in the process of making hard choices in the business world, loses the things in his life that are the most precious, including his self respect.