Film Review – The Aftermath (Second Take)
It’s both simple and all consuming. It can define a person and overwhelm them. It can dictate one’s actions. After living with it for a prolonged period, while you try to learn to live with it, it can also color the way you see the world. On occasions such as World Wars almost everyone was forced to deal with grief after surviving intense horrors. That’s what the new film The Aftermath is all about. How does one carry on after losing someone close?
World War II has ended. Jason Clarke is a British Colonel who has moved his wife played by Keira Knightly to join him occupying a former German aristocrat’s home. Alexander Skarsgård is the former owner of the home who has a teenage daughter. They weren’t actively involved with the Nazis. But being part of a conquered nation they are forced to yield their mansion to the British couple.
The Colonel is tasked with working with the local governing bodies to reconstruct what they can in Hamburg where the war has left nothing but bombed out rubble and countless dead. Resentment surrounds the British soldiers as they are attempting to clean up the city. Meanwhile, Knightly’s character is stuck pining away at home trying to get over the death of their son. They had lost their child during the war and it becomes apparent that they haven’t dealt with it as a couple. Similarly, Skarsgård’s character is allowed to live in the attic with his daughter while they mourn the loss of his wife. He is doing his best as a single father, but his daughter is angry and disappointed in him. He attempts to do his best to appease the new ruling order of Brits, but his very existence raises suspicion.
During this time of living together, the British woman at first is resentful of the Germans she is forced to live with. She is obviously harboring some misplaced blame and projecting it onto them. She and her husband aren’t connecting though. She wants him to work on their marriage. But he feels a responsibility for the carnage that litters Hamburg. So as both she and the German man work through their feelings, they end up striking up a sexual relationship based as much in manic grief as it is in love. A genuine love triangle develops as Knightly and Skarsgard sneak around behind Clarke’s back.
This movie is surprisingly strong. The performances are universally heartfelt. All 3 of these people wear their mourning on them all the time and it is totally believable. Keira Knightly is a talented actress who is simultaneously repressed and desperate. She has turned in so many performances set in historic periods at this point that we are likely to take her for granted. But she continues to be one of our finest actresses. Alexander Skarsgård is one of the most sympathetic WW2 era Germans one is likely to see in a film. The sense that he was very much just trying to survive and not make waves during the war speaks for an often under represented faction in war stories. There is a measure of guilt to be placed on those who stood by and didn’t stop the Nazis from performing their heinous acts. But you can also empathize with a family that seemed genuinely stuck in the middle as likely some were. Finally, Jason Clarke is often an under-appreciated asset. He has quietly been doing Yeoman’s work in movies and TV over the years yet seldom gets mentioned as top billed talent. He was terrific as a Rhode Island politician on the TV show Brotherhood and was quite strong on an unsung TV gem The Chicago Code. He performed well in the terrific Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. He was part of the ensemble in one of last year’s best films First Man. Here he is quite relatable as a conflicted and basically decent soldier who merely tried to stuff his own grief way down. That self-repression ends up being the fatal flaw in his marriage.
What is quite refreshing about this story is the fact that there are no villains. It would have been quite easy to turn any point of this central love triangle into a stereotype. Yet all 3 people are actually working their way through their feelings. The fact that none of it devolves into some sort of macho showdown between the two men with them duking it out over the lady is a testament to how The Aftermath wants to deal with this situation maturely.
The title of the film obviously has a double meaning. While physically dealing with the fallout from the War itself, these people are also dealing with the fallout of their own tragedies. The Aftermath is an apt title and well worth a watch.