After a tragic loss of a loved one, most of us start living our lives in denial. We spent our days like there’s no tomorrow. We not only cause pain to ourselves but also to the people around us. But it isn’t like we have settled, we are ferociously looking for a way out, or a person to blame. Like the film Riders of Justice spells out, “A miracle could be attributed to a divine character like a god but when a tragedy becomes a reality, we have a hard time assigning the address.” We refer to it as Coincidences but what about those who couldn’t accept Coincidences?
Riders of Justice (Retfærdighedens Ryttere in Danish) is a dark comedy film directed by Anders Thomas Jensen. The film explores the basic theme of tragedy that is coincidental but at the center of the story are few characters who have a hard time accepting it. The film is made for them, to transform them into better people.
‘Riders of Justice’ Summary
Compelled by a series of unfortunate events or coincidences, Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg) and her mother have to take a train to school. Mathilde’s bike gets stolen and her mother’s car isn’t working. On the train, a man, Otto, offers Mathilde’s mother, his seat, out of courtesy. Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) has recently been fired from his job as an analytical specialist, for doing his job too much and going nowhere. The lives of three people are struck with lightning when the train crashes suddenly. The right-hand side of the three front carriages of the train, incur heavy damages by colliding with a part of a parked freight train.
Mathilde’s mother was sitting on the right side and thus she dies instantly. Otto and Mathilde are fortunately safe. Mathilde’s father, Markus (Mads Mikkelsen) a serving marine, is called off instantly to attend the tragedy. Both Mathilde and Markus suffer from PTSD but Markus is completely in denial. Being a marine, he exhibits his hardshell but deep down he cannot accept the loss of his wife. The father-daughter starts living their life in deep darkness until Otto comes bearing a ray of light.
Otto has been living in guilt because he was the one who gave Mathilde’s mother his seat. If not for him, she would have been alive. Guilt compels Otto to help the daughter and he starts over-analyzing the accident. He proclaims that the incident was a planned murder to kill a man named Johan Eagle. Johan was going to testify in a crucial case against his former gang, “Riders of Justice.” His testimony would cause heavy damage to gang leader Kurt “Tandem” and thus, the accident would have been planned.
Otto tries to convey the same evidence to the police authorities who find it funny. With the help of his geeky underdog hackers, Lennart (Lars Brygmann) and Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro), Otto collects pieces of evidence and links the accident to Tandem’s brother, Palle Olesen.
Otto comes to meet Markus who was spending his days in remorse and anger. The new facts fuel Markus’s spirit, giving him a mission, something he was trained for. Markus decides to avenge his wife. The gang of these 4 people shakes down the syndicate, Riders of Justice.
Major Spoilers Ahead
‘Riders of Justice’ Ending Explained
Mathilde in her room had been pasting notes with information pertaining to her mother’s death. When Otto finds them, he is bewildered. He explains to Mathilde that these incidents have their individual course of events. All her incidents will have their own threads intertwining with other events. In simple words, simply connecting events to blame someone for an incident isn’t right. The perfect question would look too scattered and it wouldn’t be possible to put the blame onto a single person. Otto implies that it is easier to forget than run after revenge. Because it isn’t the way out.
“It’s just easier when there’s someone you can get mad at.”Mathilde
Otto realizes very late that the words he spelled out to Mathilde apply to him too. Lennart finds out that Palle Olesen, the mastermind behind the accident wasn’t in the city on the day of the accident, hence Otto couldn’t have seen him on the train. Bodashka confirms that Palle was in Germany with him.
It was a man named Aharon Nahas Shadid whom Otto saw and suspected because he threw away the costly juice and sandwich, which isn’t normal behavior. The narrative shows Aharon’s perspective too, who threw off those food items because he didn’t like them. It was a mere coincidence but Otto was looking for someone to blame and that is how he ended up with Palle Olesen.
When Markus learns the new information, he sheds his protective shield and becomes the most vulnerable. All those killings so far become meaningless. The train accident was a mere coincidence and not a planned murder. There was no one to blame for it and Markus couldn’t accept it. He breaks down completely. The team decides to end the killings but they have already angered the devil Tandem. He is coming to avenge his brother, Palle.
Markus and his team of underdogs survive the blitz and together, they wipe out Tandem and his gang. A changed Markus is seen celebrating Christmas with the folks. The music melts Markus’ heart and makes him emotional. A character transformation, indeed.
The Tragedy of Markus and Mathilde
Mathilde is transforming into Markus, a fact she is afraid of. While it is habitual to become like our parents, there are certain things we want to shed off. Mathilde is afraid of Markus’s coldness and silence. She feels that his father doesn’t feel the loss of his mother. He doesn’t understand emotions and for him, everything has become mechanical and constructive. He doesn’t believe in God and doesn’t understand remorse.
When Mathilde is suffering from pain after her mother’s death, Markus doesn’t comfort her but compels her to face it. Accept it like it was nothing.
“When People die, they’re gone for good. And you might as well learn that now. For unless you also die at a young age, you will end up burying most of the people you love.”Markus
Markus literally sounds cold and harsh and Mathilde is afraid of becoming like this unemotional person. Lennart simplifies Markus’ flaw as, “people tend to stop reacting emotionally when faced with repetition.” Markus has seen so many deaths on the battleground which is why he doesn’t feel anything. However, it doesn’t mean that he is dead inside.
There comes a breaking point though when Markus learns that all his pursuit of revenge was hypothetical because the train accident could be a mere coincidence. It wasn’t intentional. Markus’s anger dissipates and it breaks him down because now he has no one to blame. For the first time, he isn’t in control. And trust me, Mads Mikkelsen just nailed this transformation. He is such a decisive actor who was hiding all his talent under that face. When he bursts out, it hurts like a volcano. His energy is unmatchable.
‘Riders of Justice’ Theme – Ukrainian Legend About Coincidences
Tragedy and Coincidences are the major themes of the film but there is a sub-layer of Revenge that is extremely alluring. It could also be stated as the message of the film, spelled out through a minor but impactful character, Bodashka.
Bodashka narrates Ukrainian Legend About Coincidences.
“It is about Liubava Vasilkovna from Vitebsk — a beautiful princess — who was hunting the bear and a huge bear attacks on her and bites her finger off — with her beloved ring on it. But then exactly 10 years later — in the same dense forest in the same place — she goes hunting again. And now she shoots a big, old bear. And when they opened the bear’s stomach — there was no ring inside it. Nothing.”Bodashka
The symbolization of this legend is that revenge is not the answer. We might go out looking to avenge our tragedy or loved ones but in the end, we never come across something we were looking for. The diamond ring and the finger that was lost will never be recovered, and hence all the pursuit of revenge is just like a hoax. Similar events happen with Markus when he finds out that his wife died in an accident and not in a planned murder. Even he didn’t find the diamond ring he lost.
Riders of Justice incorporates many such subtle references and metaphors. It is the mark of a brilliant film that gives you so many things to ponder on. Though the film has a less emotional impact, it sure does titillates your grey matter and you can’t just stop raving about it. All the other flaws of the narrative could be ignored for one person, Mads Mikkelsen. He is actually a chameleon in the performer’s shadow.
Riders of Justice (Retfærdighedens Ryttere) is a 2021 Danish Language film directed by Anders Thomas Jensen.
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