Oscarson Explains the Search for Identity Amongst Absurdity in 1001 Grams

Chip Oscarson presented the Norwegian film 1001 Grams in an International Cinema lecture and explained the character’s search for identity in an absurd world.

1001 grams imagePROVO, Utah (October 13, 2015)— In life, we often find ourselves basing our success and identity on the size of a house, the number of likes on Instagram, or the places we have been. Are these, however, really the things that comprise who we are, or is there more to us?

Chip Oscarson, associate professor of interdisciplinary humanities and Scandinavian studies, presented the Norwegian film 1001 Grams, which grapples with these questions of identity. The film’s script uses a combination of French, Norwegian, and English.

1001 Grams was written and directed by Bent Hamer, who specializes in the kind of deadpan humor that is common in Scandinavian film. Hamer also studied literature, philosophy, and film at university; thus, according to Oscarson, he has a background in asking bigger questions.

“There are some interesting questions that the film raises about how humans function and how we make sense of the world around us that I think will be fairly obvious to [the viewer],” said Oscarson.

The film follows Marie (Ane Dahl Torp), a pristine and uptight researcher in the Norwegian Bureau of Weights and Measures who works calibrating scales and verifying measurements. After her marriage disintegrates, she is selected to take the Norwegian prototype kilogram to an international conference on weights and measures in Paris.

Oscarson commented on the subtle absurdity of the gathering and how ridiculous it is that everyone’s lives are somehow based around these abstract reference points. He explained that the absurdity in the film is emphasized through Hamer’s framing of the shots; his use of distance creates a farcical interaction between people and space. Absurdity is also clear in the interactions with bureaucrats and officials Oscarson states that the viewer can see the absurdity of the events and can find the humor in them, but the characters have a hard time seeing it. This is what the film is about. Marie gains the ability to see the irrationality of constructing her life around abstract weights only after her life falls apart and the constructs no longer hold.

“It’s calling into question this idea of how we understand who and what we are,” said Oscarson. “The types of things we use to measure that in some ways are absurd. They’re not really worth the kind of absolute status that we tend to invest in them.”

While in France, Marie meets Pi (Laurent Stocker), a former scientist who now works as a groundskeeper for the Institute for Weights and Measures, where the conference is being held. Pi is the virtual opposite of Marie—disheveled and joyful—but the pair is quickly attracted to each other.

At the end of the film, the couple is talking to each other, and they are comparing measurements. Instead of using the standard, abstract measurements, however, they are using their bodies as reference points, as society used to. The thumb in Scandinavian and French culture, for example, represents an inch.

“We get this very humanizing tendency of the film to ask the question of ‘What does it mean to love, to be in a relationship?’ These kinds of abstract ways of quantifying and measuring who and what we are begin to break down when we think about the things that are most meaningful to us—our relationships with other people,” said Oscarson. “These are things that can’t be brought into this kind of rationalized sort of metrics and matrices.”

—Kayla Goodson (B.A. Communications and French studies ’17)

Kayla covers the Department of Comparative Arts and Letters for the College of Humanities. She is a junior pursuing a dual degree in French studies and Journalism with a minor in international strategy and diplomacy.

Photos courtesy of Kino Lorber