Is it possible for something to build up and tear down at the same time? In The Commune, a group of friends form a commune in 1970s Copenhagen. It is an adventure that is both fun and challenging. Sometimes the differences between the residents are humorous, but all this togetherness can also break down things that seemed solid.
Erik (Ulrich Thomsen) inherits his father’s very large house. He would like to sell, but his wife Anna (Trine Dyrholm) convinces him that they should invite a diverse group of their friends and create a commune in the house. It is a new experience for everyone. This new common life, run very democratically, brings them together in new ways to find the enjoyment of life. That is what Anna was looking for—something to break the monotony of family life.
But soon Erik also finds a break. He begins an affair with one of his students. In time, the student also joins the household, which brings even more tension into Anna and Erik’s marriage. The tensions begin to erode the very fiber of the marriage and the commune.
Director and co-writer Thomas Vinterberg actually grew up in a commune between the ages of 7 and 19. It must have been an interesting childhood that he is able to share with us in this film. Eric and Anna’s son and daughter may well serve as Vinterberg’s surrogates in the film, allowing us to see this group through younger eyes.
Although in hindsight we may think the idea of a commune is a bit strange, at the time it was one of the ways people were beginning to experiment with different ways of living. It was not about rejecting society’s norms, it was an attempt to bring new ways of expressing the values we hold important. Key in this communal relationship is democracy. Even as they add new people it is by vote—usually consensus. When Erik’s affair is discovered, it is important that honesty comes to the fore. But those same values lead to the deterioration of the bonds that are holding these people together. Eventually, some of those bonds will have to be broken for the larger body to survive.
The film provides insight into the complex relationship between individuals, families, and societies (with the commune serving as a microcosm of society as a whole). It also allows us to consider how decisions at any of these levels affect all involved. The choices of individuals affect the whole group. Likewise, the group’s interactions affect each individual. To be able to live together in families or societies requires the recognition of responsibilities and also of the needs and concerns of others beyond ourselves. When those are not fulfilled, society (as with this commune) faces trouble.
Photos courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.