This guide comes from our archive. It was written by Rachel Helen Smith.
Allan Karlsson (Robert Gustafsson) has lived an extraordinary life. Orphaned at a young age, he becomes an expert in explosives. Before long he has not only witnessed some of the most pivotal moments in the twentieth century, but in fact played an important role in them. Whether meeting presidents, fighting in wars or working on the atomic bomb, Allan seems to change the course of history wherever he goes.
On his 100th birthday, which he will be spending in a retirement home, Allan decides that he is not ready to give up on adventure. Escaping the birthday party that the nursing staff have planned, he climbs out of his window and heads for the bus station. It is the start of an absurd odyssey that sees Allan on the run from a gang of drug dealers, accompanied by an elephant. Allan’s approach to it all is best summarised in his mother’s dying words: ‘Whatever will be, will be.’
- Did you enjoy the film and why, or why not? If you have read the book, how did this adaptation compare?
- Which other films did this make you think of, and in what ways? If you have seen Forrest Gump, can you see any similarities, and in what ways is this film unique?
- In which genre would you place this film? Would you describe it as a road movie and why, or why not? In general, how helpful is the concept of genre when thinking about films?
- What was the effect of having the dialogue in Swedish and the narration in English? Why do you think that the filmmakers decided to split the languages in this way? Did this contribute anything more than serving a purely practical function?
- Nordic crime drama has proved extremely popular in the UK; based on this film, do you think that Swedish comedy could do the same? Can you give any reasons for your answer? Which moments in the film made you laugh?
‘Regret doesn’t do you much good, unless you have a time machine.’ – Allan
- What impact does Allan’s decision to live without regret have on his emotions? How does it shape his decisions? In practice, how might one live without regret, and would this be advisable?
- Why do you think that Allan decides to escape? What message, if any, did the film have about ageing? How does our society view the process of ageing and in what ways might this film challenge our assumptions?
- What did the film’s romantic sub-plot add to its overall effect? Why do films so often include a romantic relationship and why do we find these kinds of stories compelling?
- What kind of comment does the film offer on Twentieth Century history? Would you describe the film as a satire and why, or why not? What role does satire play in our thinking about the past and the present?
- What did the film have to say about the ethics of theft and murder? Did it convey any particular message by treating these issues in a light-hearted manner? Do you think that there are there any issues which should be off-limits to comedy, and why or why not?
- Would you say that Allan is portrayed as a ‘good’ character and why, or why not? Are the gang members straight-forward ‘baddies’ and can you give any reasons for your answer? In what ways did the film play with stereotypes of heroes and villains?
‘Things are what they are, and whatever will be, will be.’ – Allan’s mother
- What do you think of this as a life philosophy? How might it help a person to live in the world, and how might it be a hindrance? Is the ‘que sera, sera’ attitude popular in our society, and why might this be the case?
- Would you agree that Allan offers a good example of how to approach life and why, or why not? How might we learn from Allan to embrace the present, and why might this be a valuable lesson? How helpful is the concept of ‘living in the moment’ when it comes to facing life’s ups and downs?