A Detective Without A Clue

Kurt Wallander, an inspector with the Ystad Police Department, is the protagonist in a series of crime novels written by Swedish novelist, Henning Mankell. Nine of the novels were dramatized and presented on the BBC in 2008, 2010, and 2012. Starring Kenneth Branaugh as Wallander, the BBC production, according to critics, did a very good job of presenting the novels and Branaugh did an equally good job of portraying the police inspector.

Wallander, tortured by the evils and horrors that confront him in his job, has become detached, depressed, and cynical. In the first story in the BBC series, his wife has already left him and found another man. His daughter seems to have little respect for him and is not at all sympathetic with the sorrow he feels in losing his wife. Having no faith of any kind, trusting no one, and unable to form any friendships, Wallander's only solution to the pain, confusion, and frustration in his life is to spend every night drinking until he passes out, then doing the exact same thing the next day. In one scene, after a particularly troubling incident, a colleague asks Wallander, if he had prayed. Wallander's response is a dry, "Why would I pray?" On the edge of a nervous breakdown, Wallander goes to his father, an artist who has painted the same landscape over 7,000 times, to discover the reason he continues being a police officer. The fact that Wallander goes to his father for this answer reveals that he does not really want an answer. In fact, Wallander's unwillingness to find a constructive solution to his despair is central to all three seasons of this show.

But, then, he doesn't really need to find a constructive solution. Nothing changes for him. Nothing really gets any better. Nothing really gets any worse. In the course of the three seasons, he loses his wife, two girlfriends, and his daughter, but he gains a dog, keeps his job, and his alcoholism never has a deleterious effect on his life or profession. The story's unreal reality is what makes the entire three seasons fiction.

The show's unreal reality, also, points to the author's unwillingness to accept the reality of his atheism.  Henning Mankell is an admitted communist and an active supporter of far left and communist causes around the world. In presenting Wallander in this perpetual cycle without any significant consequences, Mankell is trying to convince himself of the relative harmlessness of his own atheism. Without God, life may not have much meaning or purpose, but neither does it do us any real harm. Like Wallander's nocturnal binges or Wallander's father painting the same landscape 7,000 times, in writing these novels, Mankell is ignoring the truth.

It is tragic that Mankell is trying to convince himself that this is all there is and of the greatness of the great hamster wheel of life. What's more tragic, though, is that our culture is putting forward Wallander's alcoholism without consequences and mundane repetition of life as a sufficient response to evil in the world. "Whatever gets you through the night, it's all right," sang John Lennon and Elton John. This seems to be the theme of the Wallander shows, as long as religion is not one of the options.

That life without God or religion is all right is precisely what the popular culture wants us to believe. That the adequate response to evil is to descend into the sin or sins of our choice until we have to go to work the next day is this culture's gospel and it is spreading it with glee. We, as Christians, know differently. When we are honest with ourselves, we know that our sins only bring us more distress. Sin never brings peace. Only God can bring us peace. We know that the only response to evil is to immerse ourselves in the Blood of Christ through the Mass, the sacraments, and prayer. So, as Christians, let us remember to embrace and celebrate each day as the gift from God that it is and to look to that same God for the strength and consolation we need to confront and overcome the evil in our lives.


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