To crib a note from Shakespeare, the course of true love rarely ever does run smooth. Sometimes, it’s as simple as he’s just not that into you, albeit much less poetic. It gets a bit more complicated, however, in those situations where he might be that into you, if only you were not both members of the same neo-Nazi gang. In a further step towards challenging traditional notions of masculinity vis-à-vis homosexuality, Nicolo Donato’s Brotherhood (Broderskab) portrays the relationship between a pair of star-crossed right-wing extremists in exurban Denmark.
Lars (Thure Lindhart) is on a career military track until he is denied promotion due to allegations of homosexual conduct. He attends an informal gathering of the local neo-Nazi group led by Michael, a.k.a. Fatty (Nicolas Bro), who immediately spots potential in the challenging and eloquent Lars. Although Lars feels initially repelled by the group’s racism and violence towards immigrants, he is nonetheless drawn by Fatty’s courtship. Lars soon is on the fast track within their ranks. After being thrown out of his home for admitting to an attack on an Iraqi refugee, Lars finds himself living in a fix-up cabin with Fatty’s right-hand man, the laconic Jimmy (David Dencik). After a rocky start, the two begin to bond and, after one too many lingering stares, cannot help but feel the mutual attraction. As Lars and Jimmy fall deeper in love, they can’t escape one simple fact: they belong to a vicious hate group, whose recreational activities include beating gay men senseless.
If Lars and Jimmy seem like a logical reach from, say, Brokeback Mountain’s Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar, Donato conveys the innate homoerotic undertones in the male bonding of hate groups with little ambiguity. Fatty hazes his recruits by forcing them to stand naked and urinate next to one another, while Lars impresses the group with his knowledge of Ernst Rohm, a gay Nazi leader whom Hitler executed because he threatened to usurp power. In one of Donato’s more deft touches, a slowing of film speed and change of soundtrack from death metal to acoustic guitars turns a fascist mosh pit into a tender moment of early contact between gay men. Even Jimmy’s nurturing treatment towards his (biological) brother Patrick (Morten Holst), after he overdoses on drugs, sets up the idea that it is a hair’s breadth separating the “brotherhood” of paramilitary groups from a romantic relationship between two adult men.
Rather than plumbing the internal psychology of hate-group politics through this new light, Donato opts for relative simplicity by focusing on the relationship between Lars and Jimmy. Yet even in this regard, he overlooks some crucial character elements, such as how and why Jimmy became such a true believer in the first place. Lars stays with the group because of Jimmy, but Jimmy does not have this reason to explain his presence there from the beginning. While Donato hints at an element of masochistic self-loathing through Jimmy’s role in baiting and beating a gay man in the opening scene, he fails to show us how a potentially sympathetic person gets dragged into neo-Nazism — and in Jimmy’s case, it gets to the point where he justifies drinking organic beer with the “nature” philosophy the group espouses.
Sure, love can be found in unexpected places, and because of social stigma, homosexual love often has to, but why not take a moment to explore the place itself? Denmark famously resisted Nazi occupation and saved its Jewish citizens from the Holocaust. Why has the sudden influx of Iraqi refugees (a fact interesting in itself, as these are refugees from Operation Iraqi Freedom, who acquire asylum status more easily in Scandinavian countries) has triggered such a visceral hatred? Perhaps Donato felt he wove enough complexity by stemming this romance from such a destructive place, but doesn’t the fact that two people in such circumstances might grasp for love reveal something more?