In The Promised Land, Captain Ludvig Kahlen doesn’t come off as a particularly great person. A lot of the things he does are questionable. Yet, you can’t help but root for the man, thanks to his indomitable spirit and relentless battle against the chaotic evil that de Schinkel is. Of course, Mads Mikkelsen playing the part does help the cause further. The Danish legend is always on fire whenever he’s doing a film in his homeland, and Nikolaj Arcel’s period Western is no exception. The official Danish entry for the upcoming Oscars is fantastically engaging from the get-go, while it tells a rage-filled story where two men refuse to rest until one of them perishes. Except, Ludvig is the one who dreams of building something substantial, while de Schinkel is a pompous manchild with a fragile ego.
Plot Synopsis: What Happens In The Movie?
In the 17th century, the people in the Danish nobility couldn’t care less about the acres of moorland that they own- as they were uninhabitable. It was pretty much impossible to grow any crops on those lands, which meant they were of no value. That doesn’t mean the feudal lords would be okay with Captain Ludvig Kahlen’s plan of settling into one of the moorlands that was once given to him by the monarchy. Ludvig has just returned from the war and all he needs is the King’s permission to start his new life. But all he receives are snide remarks and insults by these esteemed noblemen, who basically run the monarchy. In fact, we never get to see the King in person in the entire film, just like Ludvig. However, even though these people are not too fond of Ludvig’s plans, they couldn’t say no to them after all. The King has an apparent interest in the moorlands and he wishes to grow colonies in those lands. Ludvig’s idea might sound ludicrous, but if he pulls it off, it would be beneficial. And the Captain funding the whole project with his own pension only means these skeptical, rich men don’t have to spend a penny for it.
Why Does Ludvig Want To Settle In The Barren Land?
Films like The Promised Land are profound examples of a lengthy backstory not being needed to justify the actions of a character. All we get to know about Ludvig is that he comes from the working class. His dead mother used to work as the housekeeper of a rich man, and that’s how she had Ludvig, if you know what I mean. Growing up, he took up gardening until he joined the army. This alone is enough for us to understand why Ludvig wants to establish himself as a nobleman and build a house that he wishes to name “King’s House.” And why wouldn’t he, when he has toiled all his life to get where he is, unlike the good-for-nothing noblemen running the King’s business, wearing funny-looking wigs as a symbol of their superior class? For most of the first act, Mikkelsen puts on a stoic, determined face with a fiery set of eyes. He doesn’t utter many words, but one look at the man, and you wouldn’t dare cross paths with him. But of course, one de Schinkel has other plans.
Who Is De Schinkel, And What’s His Issue With Ludvig?
For a man like de Schinkel, who never had to lift a finger in his life because he comes from money, an able man like Ludvig is always a matter of concern. Especially when Ludvig’s moorland falls under the jurisdiction of de Schinkel’s district. He’s nothing but a private estate owner who is exploiting the working class in every possible way, thanks to the inhuman practice of slavery still not being illegal. It’s a bit of a bother for de Schinkel if Ludvig builds a colony by growing crops, as it would attract settlers and put a peasant like the former captain on a podium much higher than him. The class division and the value of social status are very evident in The Promised Land, and de Schinkel’s activities are signs of that. It is another matter that the man is a true-blue, egoistic idiot.
The tone of the rivalry between de Schinkel and Ludvig is set from the very first scene, where the two actually meet in person. Even though it’s all cordial and pleasant, as the former has invited the latter to dine with him, the tension can easily be felt. Ludvig has already pulled off the unimaginable. His land has shown signs of improvement; the “King’s House” is done, where the man lives now, and a lot of men are tirelessly working for him to fulfill his dream. The purpose behind the friendly dinner is to intimidate Ludvig and force him to sign a contract, which basically makes him employed by de Schinkel. But Ludvig is obviously not going to back down, and he firmly declines the proposal, even though he is all polite and calm throughout the visit. As if things couldn’t get any worse for de Schinkel, he had to introduce Edel, the woman he plans to marry, to Ludvig. Edel also comes from money, but her Norwegian father is hell bent on marrying her off to more money, i.e., de Schinkel. Unfortunately, de Schinkel hasn’t managed to win the heart of Edel yet. There’s an instant connection between Edel and Ludvig, which makes a lot of sense, as what she sees in him is clearly something that a man like de Schinkel lacks. The night ends with de Schinkel and Ludvig officially declaring war against each other without uttering a word, along with Edel secretly inviting Ludvig to an upcoming royal event as her plus one.
In his meeting with Ludvig, de Schinkel keeps stressing the term “chaos,” and that’s exactly what he chooses as a form of retaliation. By showing his false authority, he forces Ludvig’s men to stop working. These men, who are not smart enough to understand the law, soon quit, effectively leaving Ludvig’s dream project unfinished.
How Does Ludvig Respond?
Even before meeting de Schinkel, Ludvig hires a couple for work, who are in fact hiding from de Schinkel after escaping from the shackles of slavery. De Schinkel is obviously enquiring about these two, but upon hearing about this during the dinner, Ludvig pretends to not know anything. The couple, Eriksen and Ann-Barbara, find Ludvig weird, but settling for two meals a day in exchange for working in the house and the field is certainly a better option than enduring the horror of de Schinkel. With time, though, the couple slowly turn into Ludvig’s trusted allies, and even when all the men leave, they stay back. Ludvig does find a solution to fix the labor shortage in the gypsies, thanks to a little dark-skinned vagabond girl named May Ann-Mouse. The girl, who travels with the gypsies, is deemed a “bad omen” by everyone thanks to her skin color. Ludvig doesn’t show her any affection, but he is smart enough to not believe in any superstition.
Days go by, and Ludvig’s land continues to flourish thanks to the migrant workers. But de Schinkel is not done by any means, and he gives it back by doing something genuinely horrific this time around. Killing Eriksen in the most barbaric possible manner by pouring boiling water on him is probably the most disturbing movie scene I’ve watched in recent time, but that scene works as a testament to how deranged de Schinkel really is, and Ludvig helplessly watching the whole thing happen only intensifies the whole thing. Edel is understandably horrified, and she literally begs Ludvig to free her from de Schinkel. The only way that can work out is for Ludvig to earn a title, by turning his land into a fief.
Back at the King’s house, it’s absolute horror and heartbreak for Ann-Barbara when she sees Eriksen’s lifeless body with all the freshly burned marks. With what happened to Eriksen, the Gypsies take off, as working for Ludvig doesn’t seem safe for them. Ann-Barbara also leaves, but she does come back eventually. Little May Ann-Mouse also returns, and although initially apprehensive about taking care of a child, Ludvig does let her stay. This is an implication of Ludvig actually being a caring man under the hard shell.
How Do Ludvig And Ann-Barbara Fall In Love?
For me, the relationship between Ludvig and Ann-Barbara is the highlight of The Promised Land, and so is the relationship between Ludvig and Ann-Mouse. You don’t really see either of these two relationships coming, as Ludvig initially gives you the idea that all he wants from life is the “title” of a noble man. That is also true in a way, as it can be deduced that the man has been a loner throughout his life. In fact, he does reveal to Edel that he hasn’t had any female association in his life until now. Despite Ann-Barbara being his housekeeper, he never treats her that way. Despite his hard-as-nails appearance, he wouldn’t mind if she was in a mood and spoke rather casually with him. For Ann-Barbara, it eventually becomes clear that her employer is an inherently good person.
The romance stems from acute loneliness, where Ann-Barbara initially seeks physical comfort, and Ludvig doesn’t refuse. She is aware of the whole thing between Edel and Ludvig, but she does go ahead anyway. What she probably doesn’t understand is that in his heart, Ludvig harbors feelings for her. When two people with feelings for each other get to be completely alone in the middle of a chilly, unforgiving winter, sparks are bound to fly, right? They never utter the three magical words, though, but what’s the use of words when everything can be felt through the hearts?
As time passes, Ludvig and Ann-Barbara both develop a parent-child bonding with Ann-Mouse. Especially Ludvig, who once seemed like a cold and heartless man mistreating a mere child, would now go any distance to protect the kid. However, he still has his sights set on the goal, which is establishing agriculture on the land so that the settlers start to arrive. With his secret weapon, i.e., sacks of potatoes he imported from Germany, Ludvig does manage to achieve that. As a result of that, the King sends a group of settlers to Ludvig’s land. This naturally irks de Schinkel, and he wouldn’t rest until he ruins everything that Ludvig has now.
What Happens To De Schinkel And Ludvig?
It’s really impressive how The Promised Land never falls short or loses steam for even a minute. Everything is so precisely done here, and Mads and the rest of the cast further justify that with their incredible performances. It’s really hard to top Mads in terms of acting, but as de Schinkel, actor Simon Bennebjerg goes pretty much toe in toe with him. And so does Amanda Colin, whose Ann-Barbara is worth rooting for, especially in the final act.
The narrative was always heading for an ultimate showdown between these two men. Especially after de Schinkel didn’t hesitate to kill two of the settlers, Peter and Vera. This prompts Ludwig to rush to de Schinkel’s manor and threaten him while wielding a gun in his face. But de Schinkel is obviously not going to back down, and he further conspires with his yes men regarding launching another attack. But Ludvig has had enough already, so he locates the attackers thanks to a tip from Edel and kills each one of them with military precision. Sadly, though, the settlers refuse to stay if Ann-Mouse, apparently the harbinger of bad fortune, is there. Despite Ann-Barbara’s disapproval, Ludvig tearfully bids goodbye to the child and leaves her at an orphanage. Ann-Barbara also goes away, leaving a note for Ludvig. The loss of the two people he loved the most in the world is too much for Ludvig, but the man has no time to sit and ponder over that as de Schinkel sends his men to “King’s House” and takes him into custody.
As you would expect, de Schinkel plans to do exactly the same thing to Ludvig as he once did to Eriksen. And Ludwig, already heavily whipped, seems to accept his fate now that he has no one. But Ann-Barbara clearly has other plans, as she sneaks into de Schinkel’s manor and disguises herself as a housemaid. It’s not particularly difficult for her, given she used to do the same job there, for real. We could all see what’s coming after that, but it was extremely satisfying to see de Schinkel getting severely mutilated and then castrated by Ann-Barbara. Not to mention, it wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Edel. It’s rather sad that in a world run by evil men like de Schinkel, Ann-Barbara has to pay the price for taking down one who literally ruined her life in every possible way. But nothing can be done about her imprisonment as no one is above the law, especially someone like Ann-Barbara. However, Ludvig does one very important thing, which is rescuing Ann-Mouse and bringing her back. The man even says sorry for sending her away.
Do Ludvig And Ann-Barbara Reunite?
I might be overreaching a bit here, but I do believe the whole point of The Promised Land was to distinguish between men like de Schinkel and men like Ludvig. While one went down the path of insanity and violence, the other found love and peace. Wealth works as a driving force in the entire narrative, as de Schinkel keeps boasting about it and Ludvig does everything to achieve it. But the man ultimately realizes that it is not materialistic wealth that provides meaning to life, rather it is the human connection. As he gets into the twilight years of life, nothing matters more to Ludvig than his love for Ann-Barbara and Ann-Mouse. With Ann-Mouse growing up and getting lucky in love, all that was left for Ludvig was to seek for Ann-Barbara, who was still in prison but was about to be cast into slavery again. How could Ludvig possibly let that happen? Thus, he left the very thing that once meant the world to him, the title that he earned after so much struggle. That was the only way for him to get to Ann-Barbara and free her. Captain Ludvig Kahlen sacrificed all he had, but at the end of day, he got to be reunited with the love of his life. No amount of wealth can possibly top that, right?