Do you know this man? He is almost sixty, thinning gray hair and overweight. Up until a few months ago he was married. He is childless and lives in the same apartment he shared with his wife for over forty years. He is one of those fastidious men who says what he means and means what he says. With him there is no gray, only black and white. He is an engineer and his preciseness is annoying. He speaks his mind. You have never seen him laugh or crack a smile. He always has his serious face on. He obeys the rules. When he was younger, you accepted his foibles because his wife was so delightful, now as an old man and widower those same qualities make him a curmudgeon whom you would rather ignore. He seems to have only one emotion: anger.
You can find that man in a recent Swedish movie, “A Man Called Ove”. I think it should have been called “The Curmudgeon Beats Grief.” Ove is a recent widower who is lost without his Sonja and he has no idea of how to deal with his grief. He doesn’t know he is grieving.
A series of flashbacks setup Ove’s personality and his life with Sonja. We see him as a nine year old at his mother’s funeral. His dad deals with his grief by showing Ove how to repair and maintain an automobile, a Saab. (The Saab becomes a running joke throughout the movie.) In another flashback, Ove is a late teen when his dad dies accidentally. Again no tears, just stoicism. Not long after he meets Sonja whom he marries.
In the present day, Sonja has been dead six months and Ove visits her grave daily with fresh flowers. He talks to her: declares his love and how he misses her and that he plans to join her soon. The cemetery scenes are almost comical. He brings a folding chair to sit by her grave; he spreads newspapers on the ground between headstones and lies down next to her grave as if he were in bed next to her.
Despairingly, he reports his daily rounds to Sonja along with his foiled suicide attempts. The new neighbors knocking at his door, the hangman’s rope breaking (he returns it for a refund), and a delivery boy asking him to shelter a friend. “It is impossible to kill myself!”
In between suicide attempts Ove opens his heart to people in need as he remembers Sonja’s good will and outreach to others. Against his better judgement he befriends a new young family on the block. He drives them to the hospital in an emergency; he babysits the children; he installs their dishwasher. In numerous acts of kindness for neighbors and others, Ove is dealing with his grief. He just doesn’t know it. Eventually, he gets to the point where he can share with the neighbor his life story with Sonja. When he finishes he realizes that life goes on and so will he. No more thoughts of suicide.
If you don’t mind subtitles and some sappiness, I recommend “A Man Called Ove”. It will give you another perspective on grief. You’ll see that grief, grieving and grief recovery are universal, even with subtitles.