As humans, we are constantly struggling between logic and emotions. The so-called intellectuals want us to be practical, and lawmakers want us to be more rational. In the hope of building a perfect human world, we have forgotten that it is actually inhabited by emotional beings. The ideal law announces its judgement based on “what happened.” But the arts go further. It explores the grey area to investigate “why” something happened. Anxious People, Netflix’s Swedish mini-series, is a narrative exploration of why a crime took place. While the lawmakers inside the story are concerned about catching the criminal, writer-director Felix Herngren gives the reasons “why the crime was committed.”
Based on a 2020 novel written by Fredrik Backman, the six-part mini-series follows a satirical tale about human emotions and lawmakers. At the center of the drama is a masked robber who makes a failed attempt to rob the bank and later takes hostage eight people to save his or her life. Local police officer Jack Johansson relentlessly investigates the case to catch the robber. But will he be able to make an arrest?
‘Anxious People’ Plot Summary
Father Jimmy Johansson and his son Jack are two Swedish police officers who live in a local community near Stockholm, Sweden. Jimmy’s daughter, Jill, a drug addict, stays in the city, but on the last day of the year, Jimmy hopes that Jill will visit them.
Two police officers carry on their mundane duty when an unusual robbery occurs. A robber wearing a ski mask demands 6500 Kronos from the bank cashier when a barber, Cecilia, spots the robber and calls out to Jack and Jim, arguing in front of the bank. The robber runs from the police and, in a panic, enters an “open house” (an apartment on sale). To save his or her life, the robber points the gun at people viewing the property and takes them hostage.
Jack calls the Stockholm police station to seek help while Jimmy decides to talk to the robber. To everyone’s surprise, the robber demands pizza and fireworks in exchange for releasing hostages. As fireworks brighten up the sky at midnight, the robber releases the eight people inside the apartment. Without wasting a moment, the SWAT team barges into the apartment, but they fail to find any traces of the robber. The person just disappears in thin air. Jack suspects that the robber can be one of the eight people who were taken hostage and thus decides to interrogate each one of them.
The following episodes follow the stories of these eight people, i.e., the Bergvall couple Anna-Lena and Roger; a bank director, Zarah; a lesbian couple, Ro and her pregnant wife Julia; a performance artiste, Lennart (wearing a Bunny suite), the landlord Estelle, and an estate agent, Maria. Is the robber someone among them or a different person? Let’s find out.
Major Spoilers Ahead
Who Was The Robber?
Liv Holmberg, a single mother of two pre-teen girls, attempted a bank robbery to pay the deposit for a new apartment. Her husband, Lasse, began an affair with Liv’s boss and wanted to move in with her. Hence, he divorced Liv and brought in his new mistress. But after the divorce, Liv had no place to stay, and without a roof on her head, she couldn’t legally take custody of her daughters. Liv had no job and no means of income; therefore, she asked for a loan from Lasse. But instead of helping Liv, Lasse handed over to her the court notice according to which if Liv failed to get a rental contract by January 1st, she wouldn’t be able to see her own children.
The conditions compelled Liv to attempt a robbery where she demanded 6500 Kronos (first month’s rent) from the cashier. But Liv was not a criminal; she just wanted to be with her daughter and raise them like an ordinary mother. The robbery ended in disaster, and to save herself from the law, Liv ran inside Estelle Gustavsson’s apartment that was open for viewing that day.
Why Did The Hostages Hide Robber’s Identity?
All these eight people who were inside the apartment were hiding the robber’s identity because they sympathized with Liv.
To begin with, let’s look at the Bergvall couple, Anna-Lena and Roger. While the couple’s children were growing up, Anna-Lena earned the bread for the family, and Roger stayed at home. Years later, when Roger went out to look for work, he didn’t get an assignment suited to his abilities. Roger found his existence in the apartment renovation business, where the couple started buying low-priced apartments and renovating them to sell them for a profit.
A couple like the Bergvalls recognized how difficult it is to find a roof in today’s human world. Roger and Anna-Lena, who maintained a balance between work and parenting, knew that it was literally impossible for a single mother like Liv to work and look after her kids at the same time. While a pregnant Julia, who was struggling herself to find an apartment to move into with Ro, acknowledged Liv’s conflict on a personal level.
Throughout the series, the wealthy bank director, Zarah, blamed herself for the suicide of a young man named Gustav. He jumped off the bridge in the opening scene, and a young Jack delivered his suicide note to the bank. Zarah believed that Gustav killed himself because she refused him a loan. In the apartment, Lennart the bunny made Zarah realize how difficult it has become for a person to find a decent place amid increasing rent. Liv’s story not only influenced Zarah to hide Liv’s identity but also to give a low-interest loan to the couple Ro and Julia so they could rent a place to start their new family.
However, the most influential person on this lot is the owner of the apartment, Estelle Gustavsson. The landlady had lived eighty long years. She had seen enough deaths in her life to understand the sense of loss, especially the loss of one’s child. Estelle, as a mother, lost Gustav at a very young age, and thus she walked ahead of the line to help Liv so that she didn’t have to face the loss of her daughters.
Jack’s father, Jimmy, who knew Liv was the robber, hid the fact from his son because he knew that Jack was a rational police officer. On the other hand, Jimmy saw Jill’s reflection in Liv. A certain kind of empathy comes with age, and even though Jimmy wanted to make his son understand it, he couldn’t hand over his life’s experience. For Jack, the protagonist, he needed to find his own way, his own conflict to transform, and fortunately, that incident had already happened in Jack’s life.
Why Didn’t Jack Arrest Liv?
Anxious People began with Jack, who saw Gustav jumping off the bridge. The incident left a mental scar on Jack’s mind. He became emotionally distant from everything and didn’t even want to get attached with her sibling, Jill.
At the end, when Jack found out that Liv Holmberg was the masked bank robber, he arrived at her registered address. Through a venomous mistress and an indifferent husband, Jack discovered Liv lived in a storage unit because she couldn’t afford an apartment. It was the first moment when Jack felt empathy for Liv. However, the real transformation hit Jack when he found Gustav’s letter with Zarah.
For years, Jack and Zarah blamed themselves for the death of Gustav. But in the end, Estelle revealed that Gustav had been diagnosed with incurable cancer. Hence, instead of dying with pain and medicine, he decided to end his own life. Estelle explained the entire theme of the Anxious People in a single sentence at this point. She told Jack that, as humans, we always have a chance to save people around us. Instead of getting rational or cynical, we can be sympathetic towards each other, and maybe that will help us save the world, one life at a time.
The best thing about book narratives is that character transformation is never sudden, but gradual. It is made up of minute moments that play a vital role in the bigger picture. When Jimmy told Jack that Liv was staying at Estelle’s apartment, Jack took a brief moment to decide whether he wanted to arrest Liv or not. Yet, being a rational police officer, Jack visited Estelle’s apartment.
When Jack saw Liv’s daughter in the apartment radiating an aura, Jack couldn’t help but let his emotions take over his rationality. Jack came to arrest a robber, but he only saw a mother in the apartment, and that mother was not the robber.
‘Anxious People’ Ending, Explained – How did Liv trick the SWATS?
During the hostage situation, Estelle told Julia and Anna-Lena about her childish romance with her shy neighbor, Klas-Göran. The two started exchanging books, and in one of the books, Klas hid a key to his apartment. However, Estelle didn’t want to cheat on her husband, Knut, and thus never used that key. Tragically, both Knut and Klas died six years ago, and her life had been an empty void since then. It was the reason she decided to sell the house, but then an uninvited guest changed her mind.
On the night of December 31st, Estelle informed Liv about the key to Klas’s apartment. While the SWATS searched for the robber in Estelle’s apartment, Liv hid herself in Klas’s flat.
As the series Anxious People ended, the characters found their respective closure. Jack and Zarah found out about Gustav’s cancer and stopped blaming themselves for his death. Zarah left her capitalistic job and sparked a relationship with the vagabond but sensible artist, Lennart. Roger understood that his wife Anna-Lena made numerous trips to IKEA for his happiness, and thus he decided to take Anna-Lena to the cinema for a change. The couple used their skills to renovate Klas’s apartment, which was rented or purchased by Julia, Ro, and their new baby.
While our protagonist, Jack, understood the importance of human emotions and connections. After her drug overdose incident, Jill was admitted to the hospital, but Jack didn’t bother to comfort her sister in her time of need. Jimmy had requested Jill to stay in their family house, but Jack was against it. However, Jack finally embraced her sister and bridged the gap between them in the end. The screen faded out as the family finally came together.
Anxious People (Folk med ångest in Swedish) is a 2021 Comedy Thriller Mini-Series written and directed by Felix Herngren. It is based on a novel of the same name written by Fredrik Backman. The series is streaming on Netflix.