In a sick twist that might have Darwinists uniting with the god-fearing out there, writer-director Anders Thomas Jensen (Adam’s Apples (2005)) places Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal) once more in the midst of a darkly insane comedy, this time about ‘origins of man’. The title of Jensen’s latest penmanship, Men and Chicken, gives a small clue as to humans and animals being involved and throws up some interesting ideas about our gene pool along the way.
When Elias (Mikkelsen) and Gabriel (David Dencik)’s elderly father passes away, he leaves them a video to watch. To their shock, they find out he is not their biological father – their mothers they never knew. They are in fact half-brothers, and their real father lives on the remote island of Ork. Armed with questions, the brothers go in search of him, to discover he is a scientist and his des res is a remote, dilapidated sanatorium (over)run by their insane half-brothers, Franz (Søren Malling), Josef (Nicolas Bro) and Gregor (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) who live with a bunch of animals and favour violence as a way of dealing with family disputes. But where is Dad? An accident extends Elias and Gabriel’s stay, where the dark secrets of their family’s past are found in the basement.
This gloriously eccentric and near gothic farce has a hint of Psycho to it. It sets the whacky scene from the start with the camera panning down to ‘dad’s’ crotch as he’s delivering his video message. Introduced to Elias, a definite Asperger’s sufferer with a sex addiction (Mikkelsen in delightfully ghastly, against-type form), and Gabriel, an academic but socially inept worrier, the penny drops that something isn’t quite right. Just how are these two related – physical similarities aside? It’s time for a short road (and ferry) journey to fictional hillbilly Denmark.
The cast are exceptional, wilfully blending acts of politically incorrect humour and perversion with moments of wistful vulnerability in the most unusual coming-of-age comedy in a long time. Aside from the slapstick beatings – like something from a less than silent movie age, the funniest scene is more vocal. It sees the brothers sat around a dinner table in ‘last supper’ fashion, introduced to a Bible for the first time by Gabriel, acting like some crusader who plans to civilise his siblings. Here, Jensen pokes fun at interpretation of the holy book and use of it as a tool to separate man from beast, giving a devilishly simplistic account that’s sure to be controversial to some, but highly amusing to, say, Dawkins fans.
The quirky sibling activity actually serves as a bizarre bonding session, including the communal sleeping and badminton matches, where each brother has a key feature needed for the other’s development and social conditioning. The latter might be in vain but it’s all in aid of the grand reveal, the clues of which – with hindsight – are subtle characteristics of the personalities. This is highly hilarious and equally shocking to witness while captured by Sebastian Blenkov’s atmospheric and tonally significant cinematography.
Men and Chicken is an extraordinary dark comedy for those wanting pitched blackness and heaps of lunacy. Strip away social conditioning and religion, and ironically, while the insane might run the asylum their actions begin to appear explainable, even normalising, when compared to the outside world’s perspective.