A young man born with a deformity that impedes his ability to communicate finds freedom in his fantasies, in the touching feature debut from Swedish director Johannes Nyholm.
It's telling that Sweden — a country often associated with reason, compassion, and social conscience — has produced an unusually high number of young auteurs who focus on the tenuous nature of socialization and community. Ruben Östlund, Axel Peterson, Jesper Ganslandt, and Lisa Langseth have all made compelling and devastating films about how quickly and irrevocably things can fall apart for individuals regardless of social safety nets. With his feature debut, The Giant, Johannes Nyholm explores the tension between individual and community from a different perspective.
Rikard (Christian Eriksson) is hampered by an unusual deformity that drastically limits his ability to speak, making every day a battle to communicate with those around him. Luckily, his mother and best friend understand him perfectly — plus he is one of the key players on his boules team (a kind of working-class indoor lawn bowling), which provides him with purpose, a circle of friends, and an escape from the drab long-term care facility where he lives. Rikard is also buoyed by his imaginative inner life: a fantasy land where he is a giant bounding across a picturesque landscape derived from kitschy 18th-century pastoral paintings.
As the film progresses, it becomes clear that Rikard's extraordinary situation is a reflection of the contradictory impulses — the need for community and the desire for independence — that dominate and determine our lives. Balancing the sentimental and the acerbic, The Giant is both a metaphorical critique of our forlorn dreams of power and belonging, and a naturalistic portrait of those who face unique challenges. While Rikard's story suggests an idiosyncratic fusion of Peter Bogdanovich's Mask and David Lynch's The Elephant Man, it ultimately creates and exists in a world all its own.