“When I say that word ‘bridge,’ what do you think of? I would bet you think of connection.” Dr. Nate Kramer of the Department of Comparative Arts and Letters, a specialist in Scandinavian culture, spoke about the Danish-Swedish co-produced TV series The Bridge (2011) at the regular International Cinema Wednesday lecture 20 November. The premise of this hit TV show is that a corpse is found on the bridge exactly between Denmark and Sweden. Because the body is placed right on the border and because it turns out to be two bodies—one half a Dane, one half a Swede—detectives from both have to work together to solve the case.
Prof. Kramer talked about how The Bridge draws upon various television genres. First off, it is like a police procedural. Shows like CSI (2000), Bones (2005), and Hawaii Five-O (1968) are all American examples, but most countries also have their own police procedurals. These shows, as Prof. Kramer emphasized, are not necessarily whodunnits, rather they examine the processes. They show the autopsies, evidence collections, warrants, and legal proceedings more than the actual chase of criminals.
Equally important in terms of the episodes’ runtime as well as audience interest is the relationship between the detectives. This is particularly true in The Bridge in which the interaction between the two lead detectives becomes a primary focus of the plot, almost more so than the investigation itself. The show draws on popular inter-Scandinavian stereotypes as Saga, the Swede, is incredibly organized, uptight, but lacking empathy, while Martin, the Dane, is relaxed, friendly, but with a messy personal life.
The Bridge is also a good example of “Nordic Noir.” “You can think about [Nordic Noir] like the Scandinavian version of a police procedural,” but Kramer wants IC viewers to understand that there is more to Nordic Noir than that. This is also a literary genre, which has now made its way into TV and film, usually about a crime using prose that is rather plain and direct and avoiding metaphors. but, crucially, the narratives are very specifically located. Many are critiques of the Scandinavian welfare state, so their geographical specificity is key. The titular bridge in The Bridge is not just any bridge, but the very recognizable Øresund bridge. So, viewers need to understand that this bridge is not a stand-in for all bridges, nor are the relations between Sweden and Denmark emblematic of all bordering nations.
That being said, and here Prof. Kramer asked us to forgive the seemingly contradictory statements, that “this TV show leverages the symbolic power of bridges.” While a bridge is something that normally connects, as does the Øresund Bridge, they can also serve to bisect. Bridges are places where flows can be halted, where cultures can be separated, and people searched. Tapping into this idea of connection and bisection is, Prof. Kramer claims, why this TV show has been so popular as to have four different remakes around the world: England and France, USA and Mexico, Germany and Austria, and Malaysia and Singapore. All over the world, there are unique areas that embody the same symbolic power of the bridge to illustrate the contradiction of international connections.