The bleak Swedish film Something Must Break portrays the troubled and destructive life of Sebastian. Like most young people, Sebastian (Saga Becker) is undergoing an identity crisis. Unlike most young people, Sebastian identifies as the opposite sex. He’s cultivated his androgynous looks to resemble his idyll form: Ellie. But his suicidal discontent with life leads him down a destructive path.
He is reckless when it comes to sexual encounters—partially out of a desire to get mindlessly fucked and partially out of a desire to get beaten to death). But a young man comes to his rescue when Sebastian finds himself getting kicked down by a stranger in a public restroom. The man gets punched in the face in the process, and Sebastian lends him a tissue to blot up the bleeding nose. After the man tosses the used tissue to the ground and leaves, Sebastian is so taken with the stranger that he pockets the bloody tissue as a gross memorabilia of their first encounter.
The seductive stranger is Andreas (Iggy Malmborg), a straight guy who quickly becomes infatuated with Sebastian. After a chance meeting in the park, the two strike up a sexually charged relationship consisting of debaucherous activities like snorting drugs in a public restroom and seducing an older gentleman so they can pilfer his liquor cabinet. But, when Andreas’ feelings for Sebastian escalate, he pushes Sebastian away, leaving him more bereft than ever.
What follows is an internal struggle within each of them. Sebastian attempts to become more comfortable as Ellie—donning makeup and dresses—while still pursuing Andreas. He even goes so far as to debase himself with other men in bathhouses and bars in an effort to forget the pain. Andreas tries to deal with his conflicting love for Sebastian and his own heterosexual identity.
Something Must Break gives a dark and depressing glimpse into the world of gender confusion. Sebastian is such a distraught character that he never appears to feel even an ounce of joy or fun—even when he seems to be getting exactly what he craves. A fact that becomes glaringly evident when we see Andreas smiling and enjoying time with friends. Even when he tries to make things work with Sebastian, the jarring gap between their temperaments is all too apparent.
With so much depression and self-destruction soaked in each scene—in each shot, even—it’s difficult to enjoy any light-hearted moment (which is very rare). The weight of the film’s tone smothers any attempt at brevity, sucking out any joy you may derive from the tender moments between Sebastian and Andreas. It gives the film a very heavy-handed tone. And you can’t help but fear that something tragic will come to pass by the end of the film.
Andreas’ feelings for Sebastian, though, show an emotional shift in a new generation—whether it be applicable only to the Swedes or our younger generation in general. Most of his friends are quickly accepting of androgynously fluid Sebastian (with the exception of the particularly gruff and unnerving Matthias). And Andreas tries to follow his heart, as much as it will let him. His attempts to reconcile these conflicting emotions make him the more engaging character in the film.
Sebastian’s helplessness makes him a tough character to identify with, almost too tragic to be engaging. His struggle is poignant (and a subject very close to writer/director Ester Martin Bergsmark); but he never truly reaches the triumphant, confident moment you feel he needs. It makes for a frustrating protagonist and an even more frustrating film-going experience.
The film’s style, however, is mesmerizing. With an eclectic soundtrack ranging from mournful ballads to dance club beats to lyrically-explicit tunes, you never know what to expect next. Bergsmark also chooses to linger on the more degrading moments, elevating them artistically. It makes the film much more bearable and gives just enough distance between the audience and the characters that you never forget you are watching a film.