In writing about Riget I have had to take a day or two out to actually take stock.
Let’s start at the beginning. It was a Saturday and we (myself and the partner) were looking at the longest entrants on the 1001 list. Two of the listings in this book are for mini-series which have either been re-cut or re-classafied as feature films. The longest of the entire list, Dekalog, will be done at a different time since it is 10 hour-long short films. Instead we thought we would do an episode of Riget and make our way through it, but we were so transfixed that we ended up spending the rest of the day watching the entire mini-series.
The setting of Riget is Copenhagen’s main hospital where supernatural goings on are starting. During the 5 hours the amount of supernatural occurrences ramp up, however this was a TV show and so there are many cycles to this. The opening always starts in the morning with new arrival (the grumpy, xenophobic and, mildly, disgraced) Stig Hemler, a consultant neurosurgeon from over the bridge in Sweden, removing his hubcaps and making some complaint to facilities. After this, there is always the morning meeting and so on. Establishing such a rigid routine that you come to expect means that it’s disruption in later episodes are good signifiers of something being amiss.
The way that Riget deals with the idea of ghosts so sparingly, with all goings on being confined to night time. It is also the case that the only people who seem to be in the know of what is going on are the two dishwashers with Down’s Syndrome who act as a Grecian chorus (which is just very strange).
There is not much you can say about this without giving the game away. One of the reason Riget works so well is because of the sheer number of left-turns that it takes. Just when you expect one thing to happen to a character they make a series of decisions which, although organic, are unexpected. A safer example includes that of a character to visit Haiti to procure some voodoo zombie poison… strange yes.
At times it is creepy. At others it is bizarre. Most of all it remains engaging that the only reason we knew that we had reached the end of the current part was by the appearance of creator Lars Von Trier as he talked to the audience over the credits, looking so young being that this was 20 years ago now. I have watched recent films (including Out Of Africa) which felt so much longer than this, this is how good Riget is. It does mean that I now find it even harder to decide my favourite Von Trier since I have to rank this alongside Dancer In The Dark, Melancholia and Dogville.
In the end, this feels like a first series of a trilogy. It was pretty much meant to be with Riget II coming out three years later and Riget III never materialised as too many of the actors had died or retired. We will be watching Riget II very soon both because of the sheer number of unanswered questions in the final episode and because Riget was one of the best things I have seen in a long time.