Reviews of Black Crab (2002) and related work

Black Crab (2002Text)

Jerker Virdborg (writer).

Read in 2022.

Four soldiers fighting a drawn-out war in a fictionalized Scandinavian-sounding country are sent on a mission to deliver unknown material to a contested site out in the archipelago. It’s a difficult job, skating across thin black ice on one long winter night, and the four do not trust one another.

A hybrid of a military thriller, crapsack low-tech science fiction and existential bourgeous fiction with modernistic subjective filigree.

text fiction

Black Crab (2022Moving picture, 110 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

In this adaptation, there are five soldiers on the ice, not four. Of them, the main character is still Edh, but it’s a woman named Caroline Edh, replacing Karl Edh.

Here is a sample scene from this dumb action movie: When the three remaining principal characters approach a small island, a flare goes up from that island and somebody on it starts firing hundreds of rounds through a machine gun, including plenty of tracers, at the trio. Absolutely every round misses, nobody is hit by shrapnel or ricochet, and the ice does not break. One member of the trio then says “They’re not shooting at us”, but no, there is nothing else on the ice; the enemy has merely attended the Imperial Stormtrooper School of Marksmanship. The flare goes out. Another flare immediately goes up. In its light, the group’s sniper takes out the perfectly placed machine gun nest with a single shot, despite having travelled in darkness until he found himself staring at a flare.

The team discovers that the machine gun was fired from a concrete emplacement guarded by a three-man squad, of which two had already frozen to death. If the one living enemy soldier had had a rifle or a thermal scope or a brain, he would have won, though I can’t see why he was still there at all. This scene is significantly modified from the book, where there is no sniper shot, the emplacement is never found, the characters never learn whether they were the target or whether it was an enemy soldier firing and the ice is not intact.

The fact that the other two guards had frozen to death in the movie version of the scene implies desperation on both sides. Another scene has horses, which are absent from the novel, and one faction resorts to biological warfare; both changes echo Things to Come (1936). In both movies, the serial numbers are filed off like Den osynliga muren (1944). The causes and factions of the potentially apocalyptic war are still unnamed. In the book, though, it’s possible that the team is carrying only countermeasures or precursors to bioweapons and not actual bioweapons: Kilos of samples from a presumed victim, which could have many uses. The fact that Edh and the other soldiers cannot know what they are doing, or for whom, is a central thematic point in the open-ended original. That point is lost in the movie, which resorts to a closed, heroic ending. Karl Edh was plagued by self-doubt, alienated from his parents, and motivated by a nebuluous sense of self-preservation, Caroline Edh is a hero who accepts the mission because Raad promises her that she will met her own daughter at the black site: A less selfish and less credible motivation, albeit a lie, formulated for a less intelligent audience.

Because of what I assume to be some bare-metal budgeting arrangement of tax breaks and other (trans)national subsidies, the focal faction speaks mostly Swedish but there’s one Finnish accent and a Dane. Whether that implies a united Scandinavian army or a Norwegian enemy is not known. Judging by appearances, gender and ethnic diversity is higher than any real Scandinavian army, which is distractingly utopian and represents another change from the novel. The rest, however, is more dumbly dystopian than the original.

It is an amusing coincidence with Japanese slang that every character in Black Crab is black (黒) in that they’re the apparent suspect of a crime at some point. These suspicions are stylized in added scenes. The movie was released during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic. It could not have been more timely and was briefly popular. It is also fairly well made for a relatively big-budget, mostly-Swedish movie, but there are too many cynical clichés in it, chief among them the idea that armies will try to kill literally everybody. There are also too many pointless flashbacks and errors in continuity, including the fact that nobody is deafened by gunfire. Surely a movie made current by a real war would have benefited from more realism or at least a more faithful adaptation of the novel’s superior external reality. It’s worth watching for its occasional flourishes of good set design and cinematography, and for its accidental place in history, describing a European war of the imagination just before a real one.

moving picture adaptation fiction