Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Dolph Lundgren - the Mechanik (2005) Механик

Swedish actor, director and martial art expert Dolph Lundgren (1959) is among the top tough guys of today's action movies and popular culture. He is often chosen to act the role of a tough guy probably because he is a tough guy also in real life. "Well known for his tall stature and A1 level of fitness, at peak, Lundgren stood around 195 centimetres (6 ft 5 in) and weighed 250 pounds (110 kg), and continues to be an influence in the world of fitness and bodybuilding." (wiki) you do not want to mess with him in a dark alley.

Rocky IV (1995) made Dolph Lundgren an international star as the very tough Russian boxer. Sylvester Stallone tells that "during [the filming of] Rocky IV, Dolph had hit me so hard I had swelling around the heart and had to stay in intensive care at St. John's Hospital for four days." (wiki)

Nick (Dolph Lundgren)  ref   
As a theologian I think that the low-budget almost B-movie style Mechanik (2005) written by Bryan Edward Hill and directed by Lundgren has a much more powerful content than the number one multi-million amusement park-style shoot-them-all extravaganza Expendables (2010) directed by Sylvester Stallone. In that movie Dolph Lundgren is one of the tough guys with Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Terry Crews, and Randy Couture. But that movie is totally empty unlike Mechanik which makes you think.

William (Ben Cross) ref
As retired Russian Special Forces hit man Nikolai "Nick" Cherenko, Dolph Lundgren is the hero. The characters in the film are made considerably stronger by contrasting the specially trained killing machine and emotionless Nick with the definitely-not-so-tough cry-baby, the British mercenary William Burton (Ben Cross) who is leading a gang of mercenaries in St. Petersburg and appears to be at the verge of physical collapse and alcoholism. The contrast gives the movie psychological depth and makes it more real.

Childhood of Dolph Lundgren
Lundgren is introduced surprisingly frankly in the wikipedia article that has the following about his childhood in Sweden:

Lundgren was born in Stockholm, Sweden in 1957 into an academic, middle-class family living in the suburb of Spånga. His mother, Bridgitta, was a languages teacher, and his father, Karl Lundgren, was an engineer and economist for the Swedish government. He has two sisters and a younger brother. Lundgren was raised in the Lutheran church. Lundgren has said that his father was physically abusive and vented his frustration on his wife and oldest son. He states that during his tirades, his father would call him a "loser", which motivated him later as he wished to prove himself and grew more ambitious. He has said, 'I still love my father, no matter what happened. There are many things about him I still admire. As a child, I was probably too much like him, very stubborn—perhaps that's what he couldn't deal with." He cites his troubled relationship with his father as the reason why he developed a desire to participate in heavy contact sports such as boxing and karate.

As a child, Dolph says he was insecure and suffered from allergies, and even claimed to be a runt. As a teenager, he grew up with his grandparents in the community of Nyland, north of Kramfors. He showed a keen interest in drumming and had aspirations to become a rock star. In his teenage years, he also tried judo, Gōjū-ryū and took up Kyokushin karate and began training heavily with weights.

The Mechanik - Механик

Neva and neoclassical buildings in St. Petersburg
The Mechanik Механик is an extremely violent and brutal movie where body count is lost early on. There is a fine contrast between the life of the ruthless criminals in St. Petersburg and the city itself which is among the most beautiful in the world. The camera takes quite realistic scenes from the streets and houses and also give glimpses from the surrounding countryside. Why in such a paradise there must be such evil and suffering?

Those who know modern Russia probably agree that after the collapse of Communist Soviet Union this is more or less how life is in the underworld of the big cities in mother Russia. The two words, Russian mafia, create much colder shudders than the mentioning of Italian mafia with its codes and manners.

Mother - wife - saint / whore

Julia (Olivia Lee)
The film reflects ambivalent - or should we say complex - attitudes towards women. In the foreground are prostitutes working in Russian nightclubs - but these are not depicted as sex dolls but rather as real human beings with serious problems in life and highly insecure status. In this movie the lives of these working women are not without value.

An important motif in the storyline is the accidental murder of Nick's dear wife Alina and son Vanya in crossfire. Here, in the contrast, the killed woman is a respectable ideal housewife and mother. The kidnapped Julia (Olivia Lee) is a combination of the two archetypes, a good girl forced to bad business (who according to her website seems to have freely chosen her lifestyle).

The powerful scenes depicting the fate of these women could reflect in part back to Dolph Lundgren's own childhood. The threatened good woman (mother type) is given a pistol as she and another woman and helpless children are hiding in the bedroom as a nasty aggressive man enters into it. How many Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian, Russian and other children have experienced this moment of horror - the man entering the safe room who should be the protector of the family is coming in drunk or otherwise out of his mind and children's hearts are filled with terror from the possibly life-threatening ravings of their father. The cursed king Alcohol is often in the picture in Nordic countries in such situations (I have no knowledge about the good home of Dolph, but I know many children who have experienced drunk father attacks running with mother to the night in the midst of cold winter).

The woman is not helpless this time! She closes her eyes, lifts the pistol in her trembling hand, aims somewhere to the direction of the intruder and repeatedly pulls the trigger - luckily not every violent abusive father faces fate like this - but it may be the secret unfulfilled hope of many a small boy and girl.

The whore/saint problem that men have with women is in my opinion visible in the terrible way women are treated in the movie Mechanik and in the emotions that the abuse raises in the good guy who as a justified revenger finishes the bad ones off. The ladies are sexy, scanty dressed whores, but saving their life or avenging their death is an almost sacred duty of the men in Mechanik.

Lundgren says "I still love my father, no matter what happened"

Frankly, I think this statement is true but not the whole truth.

The disfigured Russian mob boss Sasha Popov (Ivan Petrushinov) could be a dramatized father figure. This is nothing like the respected and beloved father of Dolph, of course. The character is imaginary and like a psychological or even psychiatric archetype of an evil man having absolute authority. The depiction of Sasha in the movie might, however, incorporate emotional underpinnings with roots in the the verbal and physical abuse Lundgren describes.

The very bad man is allowed to do very bad things in the movie. It is amazing and scary to think how in our real life our good God allows evil people to advance so far in their evil deeds against fellow humans and nature before the end and judgement comes. The freedom to be bad is hard to understand and luckily we do have law enforcement people keeping us a bit under the rule of law. The gangster boss seems actually to enjoy being evil and successful at the same time and goes on treating all other people anyway he wants.

The imaginary character gets what viewers of the movie will probably consider a well-deserved murderous end in a shallow pool of rainwater where Nick blows his brains off after some tortuous waiting with a single shot from the deadly shotgun.

Bye bye, "Dad"

My impressions only
I may be far off with my interpretation of the Mechanik as an example how imagination and story telling can work as therapy for the deep wounds in our souls.

Let me repeat that I do not know personally anyone involved in the writing or making of this movie. My analysis is based only on what Dolph Lundgren so honestly and publicly tells about his childhood and on the disturbing imagery in the very powerful and memorable but seriously underrated movie Mechanik that he directed.

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