Speak No Evil: Analysis of the thriller. Speak No Evil (2022): The Meaning Of The Film, Plot Summary, Explanation Of The Ending, Similar Films.
Country: Denmark, Netherlands
Genre: drama, thriller
Year of production: 2022
Director: Christian Tafdrup
Actors: Morten Burian, Fedya van Heyt, Sidsel Sim Koch, Karina Smulders
The meaning of the film Speak No Evil (“Gæsterne” – from Danish: “Guests”), which left a heavy impression on many after watching, may seem extremely straightforward and does not require additional explanation. And yet the picture contains hints of the possibility of its various interpretations, united by a single concept. Let’s analyze them and try to state the essence of the film.
What is the movie about
Speak No Evilbegins with footage of a night road, along which a car drives to ominous music. A man and a woman (as we later learn – Patrick and Karin) get out of it and pull something out of the luggage compartment of the car.
The main characters are a Danish family: Bjorn, Louise and their daughter Agnes. They came to rest in Tuscany (Italy), where they meet another family from the Netherlands (Holland): Patrick, Karin and the withdrawn and silent boy Abel. The Dutch couple gives the impression of polite and pleasant people in communication.
Frame from the film.
At first, the film makes sharp jumps in time. For example, we see an episode from the life of the main characters in Denmark: the father and mother, leaving for a visit, leave their daughter with a nanny. At the same time, Louise asks not to give Agnes apple juice, because it is too sweet. It seems that the heroes do not like communication with married couples at a party, but they endure it.
On vacation one evening, Patrick offers to drink to love. Then the madrigal “Lamento della Ninfa” is performed. Hearing him, Bjorn cries. Patrick, sitting in the front row, turns around and looks at him with a knowing look.
One day while walking, Agnes loses a stuffed rabbit named Neamus. His father has been looking for him all over the city for a long time and finally finds him. Patrick praises Bjorn for this, calling him a true hero.
Some time after returning to Denmark, the couple receives an invitation from the Dutch to stay at their home. According to the description in the letter, they will have a pleasant vacation in nature and in good company. Having overcome doubts and having received the approval of this idea from acquaintances, Bjorn and Louise agree and come. Upon arrival, they give the owners small gifts. Among them is a mug with the image of the Little Mermaid, the heroine of Anderson’s fairy tale.
The hosts seem to be hospitable, but more and more stressful and frightening moments accumulate for guests. At first, Patrick insists that Louise try the meat he cooks, knowing full well that she is a vegetarian. Abel then shows Björn his mouth, and he sees that the boy’s tongue has been cut off (as Patrick later assures, the child was born without a tongue). While walking by the mill (resembling a cross from afar), Patrick scolds his son harshly for his bad behavior.
The Dutch invite the Danes to dinner, but insist that their daughter stay at home with Abel and a man they do not know, an Arab named Muhajid, and they agree. At the restaurant, Patrick and Karin act provocatively, which makes Bjorn and Louise uncomfortable. After dinner, Patrick forces Bjorn to pay for everyone, gets drunk behind the wheel and ignores the request of the Danes to turn down the music. At the house, Patrick goes into the bathroom, also ignoring the fact that Louise is showering there at the same time.
Sidsel Sim Koch starred as the Danish Louise. Frame from the film.
At night, a Danish couple makes love. The daughter asks to let them into the room, because she does not want to sleep separately. Parents don’t open the door. Patrick looks at them through the glass. Later, Louise wakes up, gets up and finds her daughter lying with naked Dutchmen in the same bed. This becomes the last straw: the Danes pack up and leave without saying goodbye.
On the way, it turns out that Agnes has lost her stuffed rabbit again. She cries – Bjorn can not stand it and decides to return for him. As soon as he got out of the car, Nemus is there – the toy just fell under the seat. The Dutch show that they are extremely discouraged by the sudden departure of the Danes, they apologize for their behavior and ask to stay longer, promising a wonderful day. Bjorn and Louise agree.
Working in the garden, Karin complains that the scissors she uses are very dull.
Bjorn and Patrick go for a walk. The Dane admits that he hates his ordinary life and is tired of pretending that everything is fine. Then the Dutchman leads him to a wasteland. Both shout loudly, getting rid of tension.
While preparing dinner, Louise accidentally cuts her finger. Bjorn asks Patrick to examine the wound as a doctor, but it turns out that the Dutchman lied about his profession. In fact, he doesn’t work at all. At dinner, Karin tries to command Agnes in her own language, but Louise stops it. After the meal, the children show a dance, but Patrick does not like the way the boy moves and again begins to scold him harshly. For the first time, Björn openly resents such behavior – it seems that the Dutchman is surprised. Louise also boils, running out of the house. But still, the Danes stay on a visit for one more night.
At night, Bjorn once again hears Abel crying and Patrick swearing. Then the screams subside and the TV starts to play loudly. Bjorn gets up and turns it off. After, following the sound of a slamming door, he enters the pantry, where he sees the things of his predecessors (other guests): cameras, suitcases. The walls are hung with many photographs of the Dutch together with other similar families – couples with one child. Bjorn enters the pool and sees Abel’s corpse.
Fedya van Heyt as Patrick, Morten Burian as Bjorn. Frame from the film.
The Dane, without explaining anything, wakes up his wife and daughter and puts them in the car. They get to the gas station, replenish their fuel supply and drive on. Fearing persecution, Björn turns onto a country road and gets stuck. He sees a house ahead and goes there to call for help, but no one is there. Returning, Bjorn does not find his wife and daughter. It turns out that Patrick took them. He drives up with them in a car and says: “You called us. Well done guys for coming forward.” Louise thanks Karin, who is also in the car, for her help.
Bjorn asks Patrick to let him and his family go. He replies: “Do as we say, and you will not suffer.” Everyone gets into the car. On the way, Patrick stops and goes out to relieve himself, leaving the key inside. But the Danes do not take advantage of the opportunity to escape.
After a long drive, Patrick stops the car and another car pulls up. The Dutch are asking the Danes to let their daughter go. They finally try to resist. Bjorn gets hit a few times, Louise screams in hysterics. Muhajid gets out of the approaching car, cuts off Agnes’ tongue and takes her away. The Dutch take the Danes away and drop them off in the middle of the road.
Bjorn asks: “Why are you doing this?” To which Patrick replies: “You yourself allowed it.” The Dutch order the Danes to undress and go down the road, then stone them to death. The madrigal “Lamento della Ninfa” sounds again.
At the end we see that the girl stayed with the Dutch. We also see another family. The end credits play against a fresco that looks like a seventeenth-century Dutch painter.
So what happened at the end of Speak No Evil? The villains brutally killed Bjorn and Louise, taking their daughter. The footage in the finale makes us understand that history will repeat itself with new guests, only Agnes will be in Abel’s place. Abel is also not the first victim of Patrick and Karin. From what Bjorn saw in the chamber of secrets, they have been committing such crimes for a long time.
We are not given a clue why exactly Patrick and Karin are killed, leaving the children. It is unlikely that they trade the latter: it is obvious that the child acts only as a bait for a new couple. Probably, these are just terrible people with sadistic tendencies who have found their own “style”.
This is the explanation of the ending within the framework of the plot. But it is precisely the meaning of the ending of the film Speak No Evil that is inextricably linked with the multifaceted meaning of the whole picture. So, based on the content, let’s try to unravel it.
The meaning of the film Speak No Evil
The basic idea of Speak No Evil is unlikely to have escaped anyone. It lies on the surface and is embedded in the last words of the villains, who directly answer the question about the meaning of their actions: the victims themselves allowed terrible things to be done to them. Indeed, Bjorn and Louise made just a huge number of mistakes. And each of them consisted in the fact that they allowed themselves and their child to be mistreated, hiding behind a mask of politeness. The creators of the picture consciously built the plot in such a way that every few minutes the viewer almost shouted at the screen: “Stop! Why are you behaving like this? Can’t you see what’s going on?”
But what is behind all this? It is hardly possible to talk about some very deep hidden meaning here, but at least several aspects of the behavior of the main characters can be revealed.
The first is psychological and, perhaps, universal. It’s about maintaining personal boundaries. It is necessary to be aware of them and not allow anyone to violate them. If this still happens, it cannot be tolerated – especially when it comes to the safety of loved ones.
The second is family. What is happening very much resembles an abusive relationship in a couple or between parents and children. The aggressor adjusts to the character and behavior of the victim and begins to manipulate her. He gradually, at first barely noticeable, violates the boundaries. Interestingly, the very first contact between the Danes and the Dutch goes exactly like this: Patrick simply asks for permission to use the sunbed on which Agnes’s belongings are located. But over time, the pressure becomes tougher and tougher until it turns into outright aggression up to physical violence. At the same time, everything rests on an emotional swing: after bad deeds, Patrick and Karin suddenly ask for forgiveness, but then they do it again.
Frame from the film.
The third aspect concerns childhood trauma. The children in the film remain alive, at least for a while, after the death of their parents and physical injury. That is literally after a traumatic event. And they are silent (again literally: they cannot say anything) about what happened. Just like those who have experienced something terrible in childhood are silent.
The fourth aspect is international. First of all, we are talking about Western Europeans, who have accustomed themselves to tolerance – to tolerance. But sometimes this tolerance goes too far: to the extent that they are being forced out in many areas of life by migrants.
However, the indigenous people of Europe are silent, afraid of appearing inhumane, impolite, inhospitable, etc. The director presents this aspect very carefully, but it is still visible. It should be noted that the migrant Muhajid is involved in Speak No Evil for a reason. Although, it would seem, it would be possible to do without it. And for good reason, it is he who cuts off Agnes’ tongue. By the way, this is not the only migrant in the film: the girl’s nanny in Denmark is also a foreigner who does not understand her parents’ speech well.
The screenwriters also went through specific nationalities. At least there is a shifter here, when the Danes, among other Europeans (in their opinion) are distinguished by some arrogance and greater belief in their exclusivity, behave contrary to the stereotype. This provokes the audience to cry out to the characters: “Come on! Be real Danes!” The Dutch, on the contrary, are quite consistent with the prevailing opinion about their promiscuity.
Predators and herbivores
The fifth aspect touches upon the theme of human predators and human prey (“herbivores”). So, several times the authors emphasize that Louise is a vegetarian (again: not strict – a conformist). Obviously, they believe that being a predator in life is sometimes necessary in order not to become a victim of monsters. The name of the plush rabbit Nemus may refer to the term “animus”, introduced by psychiatrist Carl Jung – the animal, male part of the psyche. It is no coincidence that Bjorn is looking for him. And after the second loss, the toy “miraculously” is found as soon as the Dane gets out of the car.
Karina Smulders as Karin and Fedya van Heyt as Patricia Still from the film.
Another aspect is religious. First of all, Christian. The names of the children allude to this. Abel is a reference to the biblical Abel, the sacrifice of his brother Cain. Agnes is a lamb, a lamb is a symbol of humility and sacrifice in Christianity. And it’s not for nothing that at the beginning of the film, an episode with a request from parents not to give their daughter apple juice, as it is “too sweet”, seems to be embedded in the outline of the story. This is a reference to original sin – eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge. According to the Bible, it consisted in disobedience to the Lord. But here again the shifter. The point is that humility, originally revered, in Christianity becomes for the main characters not a virtue, but a real evil. And they lose their lives through the “classical” biblical execution – stoning.
Ancient Greek mythology also plays an important role in Speak No Evil. The madrigal “Lamento della Ninfa” sounds, which touches Bjorn so much. It also plays after the heroes die. This is the cry of a nymph who was abandoned by her beloved for the sake of another, her appeal to Cupid. This reference is hardly related to marital fidelity. Rather, we are talking about the fact that, thanks to his constant conciliation, Bjorn lost something important and now yearns for it. The titles go against the background of a fresco, which is very reminiscent of the painting “The Abduction of Ganymede” by the Dutch (!) Artists Rubens and Rembrandt. It is hardly worth diving into the hidden meaning of this myth, since the essence of the reference is most likely in the very fact of the kidnapping of the child.
Andersen’s fairy tale “The Little Mermaid” is mentioned in Speak No Evil. Moreover, Patrick is talking about the sad version of her ending (literary scholars argue about which of the options is the original one) – about where the heroine sacrificed herself for the sake of the prince. It turns out another reference to the behavior of the victim.
Finally, the English adaptation of the painting’s original title (“Guests”) is “Speak No Evil”, which refers to the third monkey (of three) from the famous panel in the Shinto shrine, which personifies the corresponding virtue. Again, the authors argue: sometimes it’s worth “speaking evil” in order to set boundaries between yourself and the aggressor, to protect yourself and your loved ones.
Morten Burian as Bjorn. Frame from the film.
- “Funny Games” (Austria, 1997): neighbors terrorize a family in a country house – a violent drama by Michael Haneke;
- Funny Games (USA, France, UK, 2007): a reimagining-remake of the same film from the same director;
- “Koko-di Koko-da” (Sweden, Denmark, 2019): a married couple relives the terrible events that happened to them on the trip again and again;
- The House That Jack Built (Denmark, Sweden, France, 2018): the story of a bloody maniac from Lars Von Trier;
- Straw Dogs (UK, US, 1971): A cult film about violence, courage and brutal revenge.