Ethics & Public Policy Center

Smilla’s Sense of Snow

Published in EPPC Online on March 1, 1997



Smilla’s Sense of Snow, based on the novel by Peter Hoeg and directed by Bille August from a screenplay by Ann Biderman, is another film in which far too much is going on. At its most basic, it is about the search by the beautiful young Smilla (Julia Ormond) for the murderer of a six year old boy whom she had befriended. But the solution to this mystery falls foul of the movie version of Occam’s razor — namely that entities must not be multiplied unnecessarily. Why was it not enough simply for the boy to have caught some disease, or been irradiated through the negligence of Greenland mining? Instead, we are given a whole (as it turns out mostly undeveloped) construct involving a strange radioactive meteor from outer space that fell over a hundred years ago, was discovered 30 years ago, then rediscovered and made the subject of an expedition on which several divers had died from infection by a prehistoric worm which the meteor had inexplicably brought back to life from extinction.

Hold it! Why do we need all this just to make the well-worn point that the big corporation is greedy and wicked? Why do you do it? Smilla asks the evil Tork (Richard Harris). “Money. Fame. More money,” he says. Well, that about sums it up, doesn’t it? It is a pity too. One comes away from the movie wishing one had seen more of her relationship with her father (Robert Loggia) and his awful wife Benja (Emma Croft), who is Smilla’s age, or with the Inuit woman whose son died, or with the strange and mysterious mechanic across the hall (Gabriel Byrne), or even with the equally mysterious Elsa Lübing (Vanessa Redgrave) with her Bible talk about the key to hell. But all those gorgeous arctic scenes and the charming and enigmatical Smilla herself — who confides that “the only thing that makes me truly happy is mathematics: snow, ice numbers,” who does what she does because “a child died; it’s my New Year’s resolution to make someone pay” — seem to have been called into existence in all their sibilant similitude only to prove that corporations are bad, greedy and ruthless. Haven’t we heard that somewhere before?

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