Hamsun (1996) 



Director:  Jan Troell. 

Starring:  Max von Sydow (Knut Hamsun), Ghita Nrrby (Marie Hamsun), Anette Hoff (Ellinor Hamsun), Gard B. Eidsvold (Arild Hamsun), Eindride Eidsvold (Tore Hamsun), Csa Sderling (Cecilia Hamsun), Sverre Anker Ousdal (Vidkun Quisling), Erik Hivju (Dr. Gabriel Langfeldt), Edgar Selge (Terboven), Ernst Jacobi (Adolf Hitler), Svein Erik Brodal (Holmboe), Per Jansen (Harald Grieg), Jesper Christensen (Otto Dietrich), Johannes Joner (Finn Christensen), Finn Schau (Doctor).

Norwegian author and German invasion of Norway


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.


Hamsun's daughter whispers to him:  "It's over.  Germany has surrendered."  Hamsun goes for a walk and he meets a little girl who asks him: "Are you Hamsun the traitor?"  Her mother told her to throw his book back at him and so she does.  Then flashbacks follow until they get back to 1945. 

Norholm. 1935.  Hamsun, age 76,  kills his 54-year old wife's rooster and she is extremely angry at him.  A big fight ensues.  Marie quotes him that he is indeed washed-up.  He ruined her possible career on the stage and left her in the country with the children all alone for long periods.  She paints a picture of a man who is absolutely and totally self-centered.  She says what a fool she has been. He, a little flustered, responds that she was unfaithful to him.  One of his problems is that he despises the theatre.  And it was true that he never really respected the children's books that she wrote.  He moves into a local inn and stays there for about a year.

1936.  A Norwegian admirer of Hitler named Quisling gives a flattering talk on Hitler and Germany which Marie attends.  She stays after the talk to speak with Quisling and he invites her out to dinner (thinking he can get to her husband through her).  He flatters Marie saying that she is a model for all Norwegian wives.  Marie brings her husband home, but the fights continue.  She says: "I've lost all respect for you."  Hamsun supports Quisling also.

1939.  Hamsun receives the German Bookseller's award. He does not speak German so his wife speaks for him, saying flattering things about the Germans.  She says that Hamsun is a good friend to Germany.  She even praises National Socialism.  Hamsun's publisher, Grieg, tells her that she should be more discreet for a war may break out at any time. But Marie doesn't listen to him.  One of their daughters, Ellinor, is an alcoholic.  She loves her father but resents him for his actions.  She berates him for having sent his children to France to study when they were only 14.

1940 (April 7)  --  Marie takes a ship to Oslo to her son Tore's exhibition.  Hamsun learns that the British have mined vestfjord.  One of the big problems with Hamsun is that he is a rabid hater of Britain and the British.  He just cannot see beyond his hatred.  He is blinded figuratively.  Meanwhile, the war comes to Norway.  Marie has to finish her journey to Oslo on foot.  On her way she sees a large group of German soldiers marching on the roads.  Quisling goes on the radio to ask for compliance with the Germans.  Hamsun blames the British for the German attack on Norway.  Hamsun writes for the newspaper that Norwegian men of the resistance should lay down their arms and desert.  When his publisher reads the article he comments that this could mean the death penalty of Hamsun. 

Marie throws a big party for the Germans.  She tells them that she will be Hamsun's voice.  Later she even travels to Germany to perform a number of readings from Hamsun's works.  His works there are very popular.  Back in Norway, the Germans are sending the intellectuals, including Hamsun's publisher, to prison at Grini.  Hamsun is upset about the news that Ronald Fangen and Grieg are in prison.  He goes to speak to the Reichskommissar Terboven.  He explains that he admires Hitler  and the he is not a democrat.  He holds the theory that a Superman can lead the pact.  A photographer takes his picture with Terboven and it appears in the newspaper.  The photo greatly displeases Grieg and the others. 

1942.  Hamsun talks with Quisling about getting Grieg out of prison.  Quisling says he does not have the power or the influence to accomplish this.  He thanks Hamsun for writing that Roosevelt is a Jew and does the bidding of the Jews.  Hamsun appears puzzled by this.  He says "I am not an anti-Semite."  Quisling lets it pass to say Hitler thanks you.  He adds that Jews will be banned from Norway. 

In Germany Marie is enjoying the limelight.  She reads from his work The Growth of the Soil.  She adds that Hamsun wishes Germany to be victorious. 

Hamsun meets two women on his walk.  They beg him to intercede with Terboven to save Esben Brodersen, her 20-year old son.  They explain that he has been tortured.  The older woman gets down on her knees to ask him.  Hamsun is annoyed saying he can do nothing.  The older woman says: "You pig. You dirty German pig!" 

Arild Hamsun tells his father that he is joining the Waffen SS and will head to the eastern front to fight Bolshevism.  He becomes very angry at his wife, blaming her his son's decision. 

Marie has dinner with Quisling and his wife.  He tells her that they want Hamsun to write for the Germans.  His Russian wife is worried because if Britain wins, it will be death for her husband and Hamsun.  Marie has no fear.  She goes to see Terboven to get the guys from her village of Grimstad out of prison.  Terboven says he will take it under consideration.  The two men from Marie's village are shot by a firing squad.  Marie is upset when she learns the truth.  Hamsun says about Terboven:  "He must go.  He's drowning Norway in blood."

Hamsun attends a journalist's conference in Vienna.  When he arrives he is given a standing ovation.  His basic message is that Britain must be crushed!  But Hamsun wants a powerful and independent Norway within Hitler's Germany.  To assure him of this he visits Hitler at Berghof.  Hitler is happy he came, but he soon becomes embarrassed and angry at the words of the emotional Hamsun who asks for assurances that Norway will be free and that Terboven will be recalled.  Hitler has Hamsun thrown out.  He tells his aides he never wants to see that man again. 

1945 April.  Hamsun collapses from a heart attack while chopping wood, but he is able to walk to the house.  Ellinor tells her father that Hitler is dead.  Terboven swallows pills with liquor and then blows himself up.  Marie is arrested and sentenced to three years imprisonment.  Arild is fined.  Hamsun is placed in a rest home.  He later is taken to a mental asylum for a psychiatric evaluation.  Quisling is shot by a firing squad. 

Talking with the psychiatrist, Hamsun disavows Nazism.  But he still stubbornly supports a lot of his own right-wing ideas.  The psychiatrist shows him film-clips of the Nazi horrors and at least he is shocked.  Finding him not very cooperative, the psychiatrist interviews Marie.  He tells her that this information will remain private and confidential.  She says that he was very attached to his mother and wanted a wife as meek as her.  He thought Marie would be that woman and became disappointed when she turned out not to be.  Marie and Hamsun meet in the hall and he asks her if she has talked with that psychiatric quack and betrayed him.  He tells her he will never see her again. 

After four months of interviews, the psychiatric report says that Hamsun in not mentally insane and there was no danger that he would commit any future crimes.  So Hamsun finally gets the trial for which he has been asking.   He is definitely guilty of treason, and he explains it by saying that he thought he was helping Norway to a new, powerful position in the new Europe under Hitler.  His sentence is to pay 425,000 crowns in damages and the costs of the trial. 

After two years and 46 days, Marie is let out of prison.  Hamsun won't let her come home.  He is angered by reading reports of her testimony to his psychiatrist.  Marie telephones the psychiatrist to tell him he has ruined her life, but he only hangs up on her. 

After first refusing to publish Hamsun's new masterpiece, the publisher prints his On Overgrown Paths.  Hamsun is lonely and asks his family to bring Marie back home.  Marie is happy to return even if Hamsun is difficult to handle.  He finally dies. 


Good movie.  Very interesting story about a Nobel Laureate poet who was delusional about politics.  He was so anti-British that he could not see Hitler for what he was: a brutal killer and dictator.  Even at his trial he was still delusional stubbornly saying he still supports many of those views that got him into trouble.  His wife was also delusional.  And, of course, this frustrated actress finally got a little of the limelight that her husband had long received.  She did not really care if she exaggerated her husband's views about Germany and Hitler.  I thought the movie was over when Germany surrendered and the Hamsun family punished.  But no, it went on for what seemed too long of a time.  That Hamsun just would not die and he finally did get his trial.  Max von Sydow as Hamsun was just absolutely perfect  --  couldn't have asked for better.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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