Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The Killing's Space

I find space tantalising, its just unbounded potential inviting speculation. Take the continuous mantra of space in football: looking for, finding, and, most importantly, making space. More important than the killer pass or the beautiful chip, is the unnoticed run by a team-mate which dragged the defenders out of position and opened the room for the moment of genius. And obviously a great defence is one which sees the space and squeezes it, blocking the potentials. Watching a team like Barcelona excel at both aspects of the game is to view the manipulation of space at its best, as the understated architecture of the highlights reel.

That this philosophy of football emerged in Holland isn't going to prevent me from drawing parallels to the Danish crime drama 'The Killing', which ended its BBC4 run last weekend. A brilliant character study of the effects and impacts of a single, long (20 episode) murder investigation, the manipulation of space is, arguably, its master-stroke. However, where football players create space to fill it, in the Killing, space is used simply for its potential, simply for its ability to tantalise. Its the universally abhored vacuum, and if the characters in the Killing don't fill the space then the audience's mind will.

Its there when Theis and Pernille sit across the table, silently staring at their hands, its there when Lund repeatedly ignores Meyer's (and everyone else's) questions, and when Troels silently observes hostile debates before unleashing his strategic ploys. The cloud of possibility, inviting invention and elaboration over and over, is what any mystery story must do well in order to engage the audience, but The Killing makes this essential trope its omnipresent theme. Everything is suspect, nothing can be certain, simply because little is ever said. We also thus empathise with the characters even more than we would if we could be privy to their thoughts. By creating such well rounded characters of possibility, the writers and actors of the show allow us to literally inhabit those characters. The characters are thus only complete before the eyes of an audience.

While verbally the theme may be the creation of space, visually the program aggressively limits it. The locations are cramped, often claustrophobic, with the only possible sweeping wide shots (the murder location itself) inhibited by only being shown at night, as indeed are almost all external scenes. Internally the locations are split and partitioned, while awkward camera angles obscure almost all peripheral action. Partly this is simply a continuation of the verbal theme, it invents the audience to imagine, to extrapolate and imagine yet further about what they are not being shown. Its not coincidence that the widest angle views come only in the final episode, once everything is revealed.

It goes further however, because in The Killing, the locations are largely unimportant except for what they symbolise, whether that be 'City Hall', 'Police Station' or 'Murder Scene'. The actual backgrounds are often bland, with items of singular impact scattered sparingly, such as the picture of Christ over the head of a forlorn Theis at the end of episode 17. This is the crux though, unlike brilliant social dramas like 'The Wire', where the city is as much a character as anyone, The Killing is about humans, and humans in a very specific, but not uncommon, situation. That the action occurs in Copenhagen is superfluous to the plot, this is an examination of murder and a study of its (many) victims rather than an expose of a society.

All of this room for interpretation which is left in the program creates an incredible murder mystery. But one also has to ask, with that level of audience participation, how did my viewing of it (in English subtitles) differ from the original Danish audience? Or the French? Its a great thought, and it shows that The Killing's greatest artistic premise is also a brilliant decision from a business perspective: because The Killing is everywhere and anyone, and thus crosses national boundaries with ease. And it does it because it makes the space.

No comments:

Post a Comment