1864: The War as a Representation

Channel DR1 has more gorgeous shows to offer besides its dark thrillers Forbrydelsen or Bron / Broen. With only 8 episodes 1864 gets deep into Danish history and the result is a framed tableau vivant charged of pictorial and theatrical beauty.

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In the beginning, life for Laust, Peter and Inge composed a bucolic and peaceful image, a Danish version of the latin beatus ille. The life, that light beyond the barn window, was a distant promise of happiness they sometimes gazed at while they played and discovered their sexuality. But peace do not last forever.

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The third episode shows us how the politician and bishop Monrad tells to his admired actress Johane (both historical characters) that the war against Prusia is about to begin so she, in the middle of her performance, transmit to the viewers the news. The war is proclaimed in a stage and future soldiers like Laust, Peter, and their beloved ones like Inge are its actors as we will see.

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The stage where she tells the news is an illusion, an artificial landscape supported by anonymous people like those behind the trees. They, with their continuous effort overshadowed by personalities like the actress, the bishop or the politicians, make of the illusion of a superior and invencible Denmark a reality for a while.

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The war begins, but it is not that of one soldier against another that we are used to see. No swords nor guns in the front, no screams, just a distant line of cannonry in the background. The brutal reality that war represents is still far away from Denmark, just another representation that they, actors and viewers at the same time, behold with fear.

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While the soldiers die in the battlefield, the Prussian officers are far away from that bloody scenery. They, standing on a map of the battlefield, turn their movements into orders that make hundreds of lives disappear. A macabre dance that transform the war, again, into a sort of distant play.

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The fire, the bullets and the swords finally pass through the curtain. The blood appears when one of the main characters is about to die but something happens: one of his fellow soldiers extracts, in a mythological-magical moment, a cube of ice from his chest healing him completely. The reality of war, the redness of the blood, meets the myth, the magic, the white heart of the ice.

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But when a burned and naked body runs across the field towards you there is no magic or mythology, just suffering. The representation, the stage, disappears and the wound finds no magical healing. Instead,  the face of the soldier is covered by dust, blood and other soldiers’ body parts. Karl Marx (the man in the last picture) is not a simple pawn anymore, he is a trembling beast.

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After the war, after the piles of corpses, after the surrender, there is just that: a human being behind the curtain. Even those powerful politicians and bishops find out (in their own way) that the play is over and the stage that they controlled as puppeteers is now full of real blood. But not everything is doomed, there are also mothers who finally, after all those meaningless battles, can see again…

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The Homecoming Queen

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