Biographical movies and shows (more popularly known as biopics) always tend to take themselves too seriously. There are a number of reasons behind it, with the primary ones being the person-in-question attempting to whitewash or glorify themselves and, of course, the director’s lack of imagination. Hence, they end up looking like audio-visual versions of their respective Wikipedia pages. The rare examples of directors breaking that mold are “Rocketman (2019)”, “Tick, Tick… Boom! (2021)”, “Loving Vincent (2017)”, “The Social Network (2010)”, “Potato Dreams of America (2021)”, “127 Hours (2010)”, “The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)”, “Catch Me If You Can (2002)”, and “Bronson (2008)”. Now, it’s time to welcome Jonas Åkerlund and his miniseries, “Clark (2022)” to this prestigious list.
The Netflix miniseries co-written, directed, and co-executive produced by Åkerlund, co-written by Fredrik Agetoft and Peter Arrhenius, tells the story of Clark Olofsson (Bill Skarsgård). It crisscrosses through his childhood, his teenage years, his adulthood, and his later years as a “family man.” But it’s largely centered around the Norrmalmstorg bank robbery, where Jan-Erik Olsson (Christopher Nordenrot) called Olofsson while holding the bank and four employees hostage. And Olofsson not only managed to keep Olsson from killing the hostages, but also invented the term “Stockholm Syndrome.” But even before doing that and becoming a national hero, no matter how much money he stole or how many murders he attempted, Olofsson always managed to be the country’s heartthrob. “Clark” is an attempt to sift through Olofsson’s truths and lies and understand why he’s such a magnetic figure.
Before getting into the themes and the performances, let’s take a moment to tip our proverbial hats to Åkerlund’s direction, the cinematography by Eric Broms, the music by Mikael Åkerfeldt, the editing by Rickard Krantz and Nils Moström, the production design by Emma Fairley and Dave Marshall, the art direction by Paulius Jurevicius and Moa Nyman, and the costume design by Susie Coulthard. The entire show, from the first frame to the last, looks and sounds like a million dollars/kronor. The cross-cutting between all the moments in Olofsson’s life, giving each of those chapters a distinct color palette, the title cards, the transition sequences, the obvious and not-so-obvious VFX, the subjective camerawork, everything is so fantastic. And, hear me out, any piece of media (a miniseries in this case) that has the guts to burst into a song-and-dance sequence just to let the audiences know how the protagonist is feeling is a winner. And “Clark” has two of them!
The complexity of the visual storytelling is sometimes compounded and sometimes subverted by the narrative. But, no matter how hard or how reservedly writers Åkerlund, Agetoft, and Arrhenius are swinging for the fences, they never lose sight of the four things that form Olofsson as a character. One, is materialism. No matter how good things are for Olofsson, he’s going to mess it up by robbing a bank to attain something utterly materialistic. Two are women. That doesn’t need a lot of explanation. If you think it does, there’s a minute-long, beautifully hand-drawn, animated sequence of Olofsson talking about the female reproductive system. Three, being popular. Four, if he’s lawfully confined, he’s going to do anything in his power to escape from there. The method can range from creating a ladder out of rakes to lying that he wants to be an actual revolutionary instead of acting as one in a stage play for community service. And Åkerlund, Agetoft, and Arrhenius really have fun toying with these tenets of Olofsson’s life, maintaining a slapstick sense of humor and horniness.
Now, just when you’re on the brink of thinking that maybe “Clark” is glorifying this fiend’s actions, Åkerlund pauses things to highlight the hollowness of this so-called national hero. He allows you to sympathize with him because of his abusive childhood and his estranged relationship with his mother because she was sent to an institution for the mentally ill when he was very young. But Åkerlund never justifies Olofsson’s reaction to that trauma, like many other biopics do, by blaming everything that went wrong for its subject matter on their upbringing. Instead, he juxtaposes Olofsson’s past with his present to show that, despite having a troubled past, he got multiple chances to accept the love that was showered on him. And he shows us, due to his selfishness, ego, and thirst for power, how he always squandered it. Yes, it’s true that since Clark is so charming, beautiful, and smart, you will root for him. However, it comes with a disclaimer, warning you to do so at your own risk because Clark will always, without fail, disappoint you by doing the wrong thing.
Casting directors Tor Nyman, Johannes Persson, and Donatas Simkauskas deserve a resounding round of applause for their work. Everyone from Alicia Agneson, Vilhelm Bomgren, Sandra Ilar, Hanna Björn, Agnes Lindström Bolmgren, Isabelle Grill (there’s a mini “Midsommar” reunion with Blomgren), Adam Lundgren, to Malin Levanon, Daniel Hallberg, Björn Gustafsson, Christoffer Nordenrot, Sofie Hoflack, Emil Algpeus, Dovil Kundrotaite, to the actors who don’t have a line or are there for a single frame, all of them are brilliant. But, let’s be honest, this is a Bill Skarsgård acting masterclass, and all of us are in session.
The man’s screen presence is absolutely electric. Even if you have no clue of the power of attraction Olofsson had in his prime, you’ll be getting weak in your knees looking at Skarsgård do many sexy things. His comic timing is simply impeccable, and his comedy ranges from awkward to slapstick and even dark. The way he uses his physicality and vocal inflections to elicit disgust, love, and cringe is mind-blowing. He can sing. He can dance. He can do some pretty insane stunts. And with one particular boat-based scene, it’s safe to say that Skarsgård has joined Adam Driver (“Annette“) and Rocking Star Yash (“KGF Chapter 2“) in the sub-genre that is men wading into a sea storm (which is a metaphor for their inner turmoil) while being intoxicated (which is a metaphor for them being drunk on their own ego). So, if it isn’t clear already, yes, Bill Skarsgård as Clark Olofsson is one of the best performances of the year (so far), and it will be hard to top.
In conclusion, there’s no doubt that Jonas Åkerlund’s “Clark” is a must-watch. As mentioned before, it’s one of the most visually inventive biopics. The narrative is as chaotic as its subject matter. There’s a beating heart in it. But there’s also an honest attempt at dissecting the man behind the facade that is Clark Olofsson to understand why he is the way he is. The miniseries looks, sounds, and moves like a million bucks/kronor. And Bill Skarsgård has given the performance of a lifetime. As a side-note (which is a main note), no other biopic that’ll succeed “Clark” has the excuse to be an audio-visual photocopy of a Wikipedia page. If you aren’t this invested in the person whose story you’re telling, and if you only want to whitewash your subject matter’s image, then it’s better if you don’t do that biopic at all. But if you’re adamant about making it, maybe watch “Clark” a couple of hundred times before shooting a second of footage.
“Clark” is a 2022 Crime Thriller miniseries directed by Jonas Åkerlund.