The Appetite of Sarah Lund

Lately I've been watching "The Killing" ("Forbrydelsen"). Once you start it is difficult to stop. Sometimes, you forget to eat--not unlike its detective protagonist, Sarah Lund. She survives on whatever is at hand, unless it is offered by someone she does not want to show weakness to. When she returns, usually late at night, to her mother's house where she lives, she rummages like a teenager for whatever. Having largely starved herself most of the day, this is her ad-hoc feast. She does not intentionally starve herself; she gorges herself on the sustenance of the investigation and forgets that anyone, much less herself, has other needs. But it is not the investigative nature of her work which feeds her, per se. Her son tells her peevishly "you only care about dead people," but that's not quite it. My projections lead me to believe simply that investigating the case is certain to give her something back--something cold, like most things she wolfs down in a hurry, but abundant.

Both her and her unwanted partner, Jan Meyer, live on an edge of anxious attachment to their work. Every lead leads to another, and each promises to crack the case. Thus the investigation can never be let alone, and they can never quite rest. They must keep prodding it. At one point it is their boss pushing them, but a new boss then pushes them to be patient and keep things quiet. It becomes clear that it is not outside pressure that makes them, especially Lund, unable to stop. The case will be fine, but if she stops, she loses hold. The lid of her life would fling open. On the one hand the investigation drives her toward destruction, on the other hand it is a holding pattern. The latter is how her plain obsession is pleasurable in a "Rear Window" way: she puts herself on ice and watches the world around her aflame. She is subject; everyone else is object. Paradoxically, this makes her just as vulnerable as everyone under her detective's gaze.

This all-consuming purpose is not so much fed as kept going by a constant stream of coffee poured from vacuum-carafes into small white cups (not quite demitasses and not quite mugs), and in her partner's case, cigarettes. This is not coffee taken to jar oneself awake, but to further engorge already electrified (yet exhausted) neurons. It is drunk to make easier ongoing activity, not as a promise of activity to come. Her partner, being more ill at ease with all this, smokes. It doesn't help with the anxiety, clearly, but it gives him something to reach for. When Lund is kicked off the case, there is a turning point: She smokes one of his cigarettes. Soon she smokes another, and casually hands the half-smoked cigarette to him. Notably, they are standing behind glass side by side, looking out.

The two detectives' eating habits markedly differ. He is abject through his food; his agitation spills out with the cheese crisps, chips, and bananas he desperately gnashes. These snacks, like his cigarettes, leave a great deal of refuse: crumbs, peels, ashes. Lund does not share this habit. In fact, it annoys her. Once he calls her, and the whole time he speaks he is crunching cheese crisps noisily. "Stop it with the cheese crisps for a minute!" she snaps. He does not. When she hangs up he's tilting the dregs of the bag into his mouth. Lund, by contrast, is a creature of control. She eats, as I said, when it is convenient, and when it does not mess up her persona. What she eats is never messy, but that is not to say she eats well-manneredly. Sometimes she doesn't have to, because she eats alone. One time it's a pot of unidentified brown glop that she eats directly from the pot with a spoon, in front of her computer. Early in the show she comes home and serves herself a plate of what looks to be leftover mashed potatoes and gravy. She is clearly hungry, yet she eats it disinterestedly. It is merely something to go into her gullet, offering no psychological comfort, only calories. She looks up at her mother, which is rare, and, conciliatory, says "this is good."

What does she survive on besides her mother's leftovers snatched at odd hours? Bread and butter in the office. Her and Meyer slather untoasted slices of bread with butter, and munch them hungrily while irritably carrying on a discussion about the case, and drinking coffee. As I'm sure some of you figured, I find this appealing. This is the kind of breakfast (whenever it happens to be taken) that does not sully its consumer with the baseness of food. You can eat it without admitting that you need. You surf along like this, not acknowledging the wave moving to crash over you.

19 January 2012