In A Better World is a film about handling bullies who draw strength from intimidating others, and it portrays parallels between a small town in Denmark and a war-torn sub Saharan country.
It opens with Christian, a young boy whose mother recently passed away. Since his father is often traveling, Christian is sent to live with his grandmother, and this results in the need for him to change schools. Christian befriends Elias, who is tormented by the school bully, Sofus. The addition of a newbie fuels Sofus’s abusive behavior. Elias’s parents complain to the teachers and administrator, but this falls on deaf ears.
After being subjected to their routine harassment, Christian attacks Sofus with a bicycle pump and beats him up badly, after which Elias looks up to Christian in admiration.
Later in the story, Anton, Elias’s father intervenes to break up a playground scuffle between a small boy and Elias’s young brother. The boy’s father arrives, yells at Anton, and recognizing that Anton is Swedish when he speaks (Danes have a rivalry with Swedes), the boy’s father hits him several times in an attempt to start a fight, but Anton refuses. In his discussion about the incident afterwards with Elias and Christian, Anton defends his approach claiming it takes a better and bigger man to refrain from violence, and he explains the other way is how wars get started.
Consistent with Anton’s philosophy, he is a doctor who volunteers in an African refugee camp where he treats men and women who are victims of horrific violence. Anton faces a quandary when the local warlord responsible for the atrocities enters the camp seeking treatment for his severely infected wound. Anton agrees to treat him out of moral compulsion.
When the warlord makes a crude comment about necrophilia in reference to a female patient Anton tried desperately to save in vain, Anton orders the warlord expelled from the camp. Incapable of defending himself, the warlord is suddenly at the mercy of a crowd of his victims who surround and drag him away to his fate, which is certain to be death.
In A Better World struggles with the idea of how to confront a bully. Since Anton alters his approach between Africa and Denmark, it’s ambiguous which one Susanne Bier advocates.
There are some fascinating shots throughout the movie that are used to set the mood for the upcoming scene. They are creative images in their own right, but because the technique is used with some frequency, it slows down the story.