Fear Me Not's main character claims he has never been so self-reflective in his life, but he remains as unaware as the protagonist of Camus' The Stranger. Mikael (played by Ulrich Thomsen, one of the only Danish actors Americans might recognize) is embarrassingly empty and has never thought to do anything about it. The film’s action takes off when he is given an opportunity to change things.
While on an extended vacation from his civil service job, Mikael volunteers to participate in an experimental study on a new anti-depressant, performed by his best friend Frederik (Lars Brygmann, delivering a solid performance). Mikael enjoys the blissful feeling the drugs give him, and he begins to view them as a gift of happiness. But the testing begins to go horribly wrong. Many of the patients start to engage in random acts of violence, and Mikael eventually throws an unwarranted punch. When the experiment is inevitably canceled, Frederik suggests that his friend throw away the pills.
But Mikael does not listen. He is not ready to sacrifice the sense of well being the pills afford him. And as he continues taking them, his aggression persists. The pills and the journal he keeps allow him to become more “self-reflective.” Realizing he is unhappy and believing his wife is the reason why, he then goes on a violent rampage in the hopes of setting things straight.
Director Kristian Levring and co-writer Anders Thomas Jensen have made a film that is thought provoking and culturally relevant, but it's unenjoyable. Mikael could have been an interesting character: what happens when a man with self-knowledge -- who hates his job and barely loves his wife -- becomes delusional? He turns to violence. Mikael’s story confirms that to choose unhappiness in one’s life is the greatest sin of all.
Regardless, to experience Fear Me Not is to be asked to buy into an ugly sort of nihilism. And the fact that the filmmaker places the viewer inside his main character’s consciousness does not excuse this unpleasant feeling. The film's very atmosphere tortures the viewer, but not in the exhilarating way that the best of Michael Haneke’s films do. Ultimately, we are left to inhabit the existence of a pathetic character — used by the artists as an example of the subjugated self — who in the end goes crawling back to his mother. This seems amusing in retrospect, but it's dreadful while watching.