As a rule, many tend to think of Norway as a neutral country with a passive military. But in a couple of historical instances, the Norwegian army engaged in acts of controversial brutality by opening fire on innocent locals. This sweeping epic drama from director Marius Holst
recreates one such tragedy. The year is 1915; the place is a remote fjord just outside of Oslo, where an institution called the Bastoy Boys' Home is situated. Functioning as both a residence for youths from dysfunctional or impoverished homes and a reform school, it is guilty of routine acts of sadistic brutality meted out for even the most inconsequential of crimes, such as pilfering money from a church collection plate. It also operates according to a warped and twisted deviation of evangelical Christianity that involves viscerally abusing young charges into becoming faithful believers. Perhaps most unbearable is the atmosphere of extreme dehumanization: Administrators rob the boys of their names and tag them with arbitrary numbers. As the story opens, a newcomer arrives -- a whaler named Erling (Benjamin Helstad), who is alleged to have committed homicide. In no time at all, he stirs up trouble wherever he goes, as he does battle with the school governor (Stellan Skarsgard
), confronts the sexually abusive dorm master (Kristoffer Joner
), and expands the horizons of sincere but troubled dorm leader Olav (Trond Nilssen). Before long, Erling drums up the spirit of revolution in the school hallways. Many of the boys are delighted to find a courageous leader who will help them stand up to injustice, but no one can anticipate the punishment that the government has in store for the hell-raisers.