So, you’re back from watching a Western masquerading as a war flick. And if you walked into it with the reviews of Sisu still fresh in your mind, you’ve probably walked out not all that shaken out of your chair. But if you truly did give Jalmari Helander’s action flick (I’d even go as far as calling it a comedy) a shot unbeknownst to the kind of completely ridiculous gorefest you were about to be treated to, chances are, you’re still in a bit of a shock and trying to make sense of the odd old man in the center of the bloody ocean that is Sisu. Here’s why the invincible Aatami Korpi is so bewildering that you’re almost close to giving up on trying to understand him. It’s the lack of dialogue and backstory to this John Wick meets Rambo character that’s probably throwing you off. Sisu is a film you could watch on mute, and you’d still hardly miss out on anything. Sisu didn’t just take liberties with how far it aimed to go with the superhuman invincibility it equipped Korpi with. The film, very emphatically, bordered on absolute absurdism with the path it laid out for its hero.
It’s no surprise that the off-the-charts human mutilation with flying limbs, splattered scraps of flesh, and crushed skulls were distracting enough to make it seem like the gore was Sisu’s boldest aspect. Yet something that’s been going on in my mind since the end credits rolled on the screen is the amount of gusto it takes to just drop a brand-new ruthless sentinel out of nowhere and have him go scorched earth on human dumpsters. And that wouldn’t have come off as astonishing had Korpi not seemed entirely familiar and valid in his hellfire approach to the clueless Nazis who’d clearly messed with the wrong grandpa. All you need to know about this lone wolf Finn prospector in order to make some sort of sense of him is jotted down by the Nazi filth Bruno’s henchman. Korpi’s a man who took out the grief of losing his family by single-handedly annihilating 300 Russians. But don’t limit your understanding of this hellraiser to his personal losses.
If you can get yourself to look beyond all the intentional cliches Sisu has molded Korpi out of, you’d notice the irregularities in him. And by irregularities, I mean the character traits you wouldn’t readily associate with someone like him. For a scarred war vet who’s secluded himself from the havoc of the 2nd World War, the glimmer on his face is a bit too bright when a little bean of gold peeks from a handful of gravel. It’s even brighter when he unearths a gold mine inside a crater he’s been digging for a while. It really makes you wonder why a man not above being charmed by materialistic gains would want to live the life of a hobo and only prefer the companionship of a dog and a horse. But when his menacing figure walks through the carnage he subjects the scrawny Nazi officers to, the blood and grime settle in the crevices of the distress he very obviously wants no part of. It may seem like a chore to wipe the blood off and look beneath the steely surface, but once you do, you’d find a man whose heart breaks at the sight of his horse being blown into pieces. The same man who, without flinching, slices through a Nazi soldier’s neck underwater and digs his face into the dead man’s airway to survive is the same man who prioritizes his dog’s survival over his own when Bruno’s group ties an explosive to the dog.
You might counter with the myriad examples of brutal heroes whose ruthlessness is only a facade that hides their vulnerability. But that isn’t at all who Aatami Korpi is. Korpi’s bloodcurdling capacity for savagery is as true and evident as the pain he feels for the lands, the villages, and the people who’ve been mercilessly exploited, ravaged, and wiped out by the German soldiers. The sincerest look of an aching blend of rage and agony that Jorma Tommila conjures in the haunted bones of a village long gone whispers into your ears and lets you know that Korpi isn’t scared of being broken. On the surface, the gold that the Nazis stole from him might look like the only reason why he’s fighting the ferocious battle which drags him to the brink of death countless times. But why would he put himself through that when he could just go back to his base and dig out some more gold?
It may be difficult to perceive Korpi as anything more than a vicious killing machine whom even death is wary of, but Korpi is deeply patriotic. Sure, the gold most undeniably is one of the reasons he’s willing to emerge unscathed out of being stabbed, shot, beaten, and even hanged, but there’s another, more clandestine reason why the gold is so important to him. The gold belongs to his land, the land that the Germans have already done unthinkable harm to. There’s no way he’s letting three wagons full of smug Nazis loot more from Finland and its people. The other reason for him to make it a mission to eviscerate each of the Nazi degenerates is the fact that he knows that the war is about to end. The Germans have been called to Norway, and standing on the threshold of losing the free pass for being loathsome sadists has compelled them to take what they can. So, they’ve loaded a truck with Finnish women to rape and abuse, and as luck would have it, a bag of raw gold has fallen right into their laps. There’s no turning back for Korpi when he’s already jumped in at the deep end, and he is not the person to back out when it comes to standing up for his country. But most essentially, Korpi gets a mad kick of adrenaline from challenging death. And as the Finnish woman said, he doesn’t die because he doesn’t give up.