Per the old Tolstoy truism, each family in Together is unhappy in their own unique way. Rolf and Elisabeth bent until they broke, stuck in a cycle of violence and temper driven by Rolf’s anger and abuse. Neither sees how badly they’ve wounded their children, especially Eva. Mousy in glasses and immune to humor, she is the Swedish stereotype with the impenetrable shell, made so not by culture or climate but by the inability of her parents to make for her a normal home. There’s no abuse in the conservative family but the air is just as stultifying. The patriarch demands conformity and propriety in all things, or at least the appearance of it. Everyone knows each other’s secrets, but the courage to name the lie of their existences has yet to be found. Instead, the wife swallows her resentment, the husband ignores his hypocrisy, and the son internalizes everything, unable to be honest with his parents about anything.
The most unique family is the commune, a group founded on shared philosophy instead of genes. Ranging from amenable hippies to strident revolutionaries, they all agree that petty concerns like monogamy or modesty are bourgeois wastes, except when they can’t help themselves from succumbing to those kinds of quotidian impulses. Goran, played as a peacemaker through and through by Hammarsten, cannot ignore his discomfort when Lena wants a one-sided open relationship. That kind of distance between professed values and actual feelings reverberates through the commune. The purest ideologue amongst them doesn’t talk of anything other than Lenin and Mao, even as pillow talk, but he’s also got the richest parents. Lena’s openmindedness extends beyond polyamory into the cruel, as she crosses taboos freely but would surely tell an offended party to stop being a prude. Where the two traditional families are insisting on a lie from the right, the commune is lying from the left.
Meeting in the middle allows for Elisabeth, Eva, and Stefan to serve as audience surrogates into the ecosystem of the commune. They come in right as Lasse and Anna are having a frank discussion of what body parts should and should not be exposed at the breakfast table. Thrown into the deep end, Elisabeth embraces something different and new, learning about basic feminism from Anna. Stefan’s an adaptable little boy who takes to the protest ethic of the commune as a way for him and Tet to get hot dogs reinstated as a dinner option. Eva is most resistant as she’s at the age to think everything’s stupid, but she needs the most building back up. Achingly sad in her every action, Eva emerges as the frozen heart of the film and the character most in need of a win.
Her main competition is her father, who Moodysson doesn’t ignore as an irredeemable brute. Instead, he follows Rolf through his nadir and out the other side. He’s shown repeatedly blowing chances to spend time with his kids as the weeks go by, until he gets a glimpse of his future from a divorced neighbor. Moodysson gives this character, played by Sten Ljunggren, the opportunity to be a truth teller. He’s a man who looked forward to his freedom after his divorce, but it was only the freedom to destroy relationships and be disappointed at his inability to create new ones. The relationship between Rolf and Ljunggren’s Birger is also one of the few instances that depict how difficult it can be for grown men to build new friendships with other men. They share awkward pauses but an affecting and earnest desire to spend time with each other, even if they can’t bring themselves to say it out loud.
Not every subplot is a winner. One of the housemates, a sadsack gay man played by Shanti Roney, spends the film mooning over Lasse, who proclaims his heterosexuality as loudly as he can. This woe-is-me act is tiresome, as is the laborious process of Roney’s Klas turning Lasse’s many no’s into a yes. This wouldn’t work by flipping genders and it doesn’t work here, either. There’s pathos and there’s being pathetic. Klas is the latter.
Outside of Klas and Lasse, Together is full of human moments that ache and soar in equal measure. They live in spaces between philosophy and custom and political tenets, when people are able to forget the global picture and just focus on the individual in front of them. What good is one’s in-depth plan to get the workers to rise up against the banks if one doesn’t have a friend who wants to listen to it? Moodysson leaves the viewer with an ecstatic final scene as simple as an outdoor soccer game that contains substantially more hugs than the average match. Earned and deeply cathartic, the scene marks Together as the final nail in the coffin for the humorless Scandinavian. There are surely plenty of dour Swedes and Finns and Danes, but a humorless populace could never concoct the ecstasy of that soccer game. A-