In Order of Disappearance is a Norwegian black action comedy that aims its barbs straight at the heart of social democracy. A hit in Norway after a stellar debut at the 2014 Berlin Film Festival, the film stars Stellan Skarsgård as a quiet and peaceful snowplow driver who goes into full-on revenge mode after a death in the family. The English-language remake of In Order of Disappearance is currently in development, with Liam Neeson taking over Skarsgård’s role and director Hans Petter Moland staying onboard behind the camera. The HFPA’s Kirpi Uimonen Ballesteros had a phone conversation with the Moland and Skarsgård.
There is snow as far as the eye can see. Snowplow driver Nils (Stellan Skarsgård) works in a little winter paradise, Beitostølen. This hard-working and introverted man has recently been named Citizen of the Year. But the sudden death, actually murder, of his son changes him into a vengeful serial killer and puts him in the middle of a drug war between the Norwegian mafia and the Serbs. His best weapon is his plow and snow is his ally.
“When they offered me the film, I said oh no f*** you going to call me out to the snow again”, Skarsgård, 65, recalls and laughs.
In Order of Disappearance is his fourth collaboration with Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland, 60. Previously they worked together in Zero Kelvin (1995), Aberdeen (2000) and A Somewhat Gentle Man (2010). “The first film was in the snow, the second in the snow and the rain, and the third in the rain and I always wear ugly clothes. It is really hard working with Hans”, Skarsgård teases his friend and adds: “I am happy I did this movie.”
When they first got to know each other, in the mid-‘90s, Moland had only one feature film under his belt. “When we started to work together in Zero Kelvin, Stellan was already a very accomplished and famous movie star and it was only my second film. I felt honored that he decided to come on board and do that film. It felt like I was given a rare gift that just gave such a boost to that project. I thought if he likes it, there has to generally be some good qualities to the script and the project”, Moland says.Their work relationship evolved into a friendship. “Over the years we got to know each other a lot better. We always enjoy discussing the characters and exploring the material before and after the shoot days. I feel that is part of the fun still working together.”
Swedish actor Skarsgård, known for films like Good Will Hunting (1997), Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006) and The Avengers (2012) - and more recently as the father of rising star Alexander Skarsgard (True Blood; Tarzan) - wasn’t familiar with Moland or his work back in the mid-‘90s. “I didn’t know who he was and that he was one of the best directors in the world. During the years we have grown much closer, our relationship is like a good marriage. There is so much we don’t have to say anymore. Hans knows my strengths and weaknesses and I know his and we can cover for each other. We can say absolutely anything to each other. And we know it is based on trust, love and virtue”, Skarsgård says.
Skarsgård’s generosity towards other actors and crew made filming In Order of Disappearance easier for Moland even though the circumstances were harsh in the middle of winter approximately 3000 feet above sea level. In the end Moland thinks that the high mountains blanketed in snow proved to be a blessing for the film because the purpose of Nil’s life is inherently understood by the audience.
Is there a deeper social message in this action-packed black comedy with a body count spiraling higher and higher? “It is a commentary in many ways on contemporary Scandinavian life. Not necessarily in a political, but in an anecdotal way. It is partly satire and part of that is commenting on life around you. It's taking the piss out of the Social Democratic model and sort of gives the feeling one of the characters has: that only cold countries can have a good and functional society. It is perhaps something Scandinavians feel a little bit superior about. And of course there is no truth to it whatsoever. On the surface it might seem so but Rome was not built by Scandinavians”, Moland explains. In Order of Disappearance's roots go back to Moland’s formative years in the United States, watching a lot of American movies. “I was being inspired by great American films especially from the '70s”, he says.
Towards the end of the movie Nils' revenge escalates into a full-blown underworld gang war. And there is a lot of blood on Nils’ snowplow. Nils’ problem is that he doesn’t have language or tools to overcome tragedy, so he becomes a caveman. I can understand it even I don’t approve of people going around killing other people. In general I am against capital punishment. But I can understand the urge to kill. If somebody did do something to my children I would feel the urge to kill but hopefully I wouldn’t kill and I would find other ways to channel my rage”, Skarsgård speculates.