Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Film

Madness, Otherness and Transformation: Exploring Religion in Nordic Crime Films

Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Film

Madness, Otherness and Transformation: Exploring Religion in Nordic Crime Films

Article excerpt


Crime fiction has long been a very popular genre, but it is a genre that has long also been ignored in academia (Tapper 2011). The lack of interest in exploring crime fiction has no doubt a lot to do with the popularity of the genre. As with many other forms of popular culture, crime fiction has been seen as nothing but entertainment. However, as the upsurge in popular culture research in general attests, something being popular and entertaining does not make it less worthy of attention (Lynch 2012). Popular culture is not an exact reflection of our world, but it does capture the attitudes, values and beliefs we hold to and help shape these in turn (Partridge 2004). This is true for crime fiction too.

Stories focusing on crime are popular in many countries. Though internationally American and British productions still dominate the market, during the last decade or so Scandinavian novels, TV-series and films dealing with crime have also come to reach a large international audience. The list of successful Nordic crime fiction writers can be made long: Arne Dahl, Karin Fossum, Börge Hellström, Anne Holt, Arnaldur Indriðason, Martti Yrjänä Joensuu, Stieg Larrson, Åsa Larsson, Leena Lehtolainen, Camilla Läckberg, Jo Nesbø, Håkan Nesser, Henning Mankell, Liza Marklund, Jan Mårtensson, Anders Roslund etc. A quick search on Scandinavian crime fiction highlights its popularity. On the New York Public Library website Jeremy Megraw (2013) offers new readers a brief history to the genre and names to look out for. Articles in among others The Guardian (Crace 2009), The New Yorker (Siegel 2014), and The Washington Post (Tucker 2010) do the same, highlighting written fiction, TVseries and films. The writers are all in agreement that Scandinavian crime fiction is worthy of attention.

That more attention needs to be given to crime fiction and Scandinavian crime fiction is also something more and more scholars are agreeing on (see Brodén 2008; Arvas and Nestingen 2011a; Tapper 2011). During the last couple of years a number of studies dealing with crime fiction have appeared (see for example Johnson 2006; Nicol, McNulty and Pulham 2010; Andrew and Phelps 2013). Many scholars focusing on crime fiction argue that this genre and its many subgenres are particularly interesting when exploring questions of ideology and values (Nestingen 2008; Bergman and Kärrholm 2011; Tapper 2011). This is a view I share and my particular interest is in the role given religion in contemporary Scandinavian or Nordic crime films. Religion in crime fiction has been touched upon before (Spencer 1989; Kendrick 1994; Trenter and Matz 2005), but more perspectives need to be brought up. Being a scholar of religion and film it is particularly crime films that interest me and the filmic constructions of religion that I focus on. My goal with this article is to highlight some of the key ways religion is represented in contemporary Scandinavian crime films and discuss what these representations suggest about attitudes to religion in the Scandinavian context today.

I will focus on one film, a film I find captures many common ways of representing religion in Scandinavian crime fiction, but also highlights some less obvious, but equally noteworthy approaches. The film is the Finnish film Harjunpää ja pahan pappi, in English Priest of Evil (2010), directed by Olli Saarela. The film is loosely based on the novel with the same name, written by Martti Yrjänä Joensuu. In my analysis below I will give a more detailed introduction to the film and religion in the film, but before this a brief introduction to crime fiction and religion in crime fiction is needed.

Religion in the world of crime

A theological interest in crime fiction is not new and neither particularly surprising. Crime fiction often deals with questions of right and wrong, good and evil, sin and punishment, subjects that also quite naturally inspire theological thinking. A noteworthy study is William David Spencer's Mysterium and Mystery: The Clerical Crime Novel (1989) in which Spencer explores crime fiction in which clergy take up the role of detective. …

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