• Saga Noren and her Porsche have achieved cult status. (SBS)
As Nordic Noir phenomenon 'The Bridge' and its adaptations launch at SBS On Demand, we look at what makes the concept so remarkable.
By
Tanya Modini

26 Dec 2019 - 9:46 AM  UPDATED 27 Dec 2019 - 9:46 AM

The Bridge is arguably the benchmark of Scandi noir — a phenomenon shown in 188 countries worldwide. But what is it about the show that has fascinated audiences worldwide and led to five remakes set across international borders?

 

The unique opening crime

As with all good crime shows, The Bridge kicks off with a dead body - but the ingenious opening hook of the series is that the body is in two halves lying on the Øresund Bridge that connects Denmark and Sweden, one half of the body in one country and one half in the other. This set up opens the door to the unlikely and initially awkward partnership between two very different detectives from two countries, forced to work together on the investigation. The Bridge not only explores the relationship between the detectives but simultaneously explores the space between the two cultures. 

 

Saga

It goes without saying that a significant amount of the original shows fascination and appeal lies with its central protagonist, Detective Saga Noren (Sofia Helin). Saga is socially awkward, blunt and brilliant. Many have speculated that Saga is on the autism spectrum but this has never been explicitly confirmed. Saga is simply Saga.

Helin’s portrayal of Saga is a masterclass of character building. With all of Saga’s genius and tactlessness, Helin manages to bring a vulnerability to her that we relate to and defend.

Saga’s partners Martin Rohde (Kim Bodnia, S.1&2), and Henrik Saboe (Thure Lindhardt, S.3&4) are also pivotal – Martin a perfect social opposite to Saga, and Henrik just as wounded. But as Bo Erhardt, producer of The Bridge says “Saga is The Bridge. Without her, we have no show”.

But there are more hooks to The Bridge than just watching Saga alight from her iconic green Porsche and stride into a crime scene wearing her trademark long green jacket and brown leather pants.

A serial killer with a socio-political cause

We all love a good serial killer story, but there is something else at play in The Bridge. Hans Rosenfeldt, creator and writer of the original series, claims that the unique feature of Scandi noir is "the second story" — the layers within the main story that deal with all manner of things socio-political, and are used to explore the social problems and issues within the countries they are set in. In The Bridge, the second story is always part of the serial killer’s rationale for killing and highlights recognisable contemporary societal issues - homelessness, refugees, people smuggling, the environment, child abuse, to name but a few.

Unlikely heroes

The Bridge places characters who may normally exist on the fringes of society with very little power, front and centre and wielding lots of power – Saga with her social awkwardness and poor communication skills, Henrik with his trauma and everything that brings. Watching awkward characters become unlikely heroes as they overcome their own obstacles while in the process of solving complex crimes and catching hardcore criminals is both compelling and satisfying.

Social norms challenged

But not only are the crimes socio-politically motivated by a serial killer with a cause, many of the other characters make a statement by pushing the boundaries of accepted tropes and social norms. Nordic noir historically places unconventional, flawed and powerful women front and centre, women who are not defined by their relationships with men. In The Bridge, the brooding leading male detective trope is replaced by an unemotional, logical woman who follows the rules even if it is to her detriment - the emotional quota of the show is left to be delivered by the men around her. Both writers for The Bridge, Rosenfeldt and Camilla Ahlgren, also made the decision to ensure that as many scenes as possible had a 50/50 gender split.

Seasons 1 - 4 of The Bridge are available to stream now at SBS On Demand.

A format that works

Since the original Swedish/Danish version of The Bridge (Bron Broen) hit our screens in 2012, there have been five international remakes utilising the concept  – US/Mexico (The Bridge US, 2013), French/British (The Tunnel, 2013), Germany/Austria (Pagan’s Peak, 2018), Russia/Estonia (The Bridge, 2018), and Malaysian/Singaporean (The Bridge, 2018). While they all have their individual differences that set them apart in varying degrees from the original, they all start with the premise of a body being found lying across the border of two countries.

The adaptations

The Bridge (US) – US/Mexican border

In this remake, the action shifts to the border between Mexico and the USA - making for some interesting layers within the social justice subtext. Compared to the original series, the differences between these two cultures is much starker with the border between the countries having a different, and in light of recent political debates in the USA, far more controversial significance.

The series kicks off with the body of a judge who is found on the highway lying across the connection of USA/Mexico border towns El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. This leads to the pairing up of eager, young American detective Sonya Cross (Diana Kruger), and the more world-weary, apprehensive Mexican detective, Marco Ruiz (Demian Bichir).

In reality, there are vast cultural divides and much social discord within these two border towns. Ciudad Juarez has a real and shocking recent history of murdered and missing women and is known as a haven for drug cartels, and El Paso, a heartland for current debates around gun violence and immigration. There is much to draw on for the ‘second story’ from these two border towns.

Seasons 1 - 2 of The Bridge (USA) are available to stream at SBS On Demand

 

The Tunnel – French/British

The historically turbulent relationship between France and Britain is put to perfect use in The Tunnel. This remake strays from the use of a bridge, instead the body of a French politician is found in the channel tunnel on the border between France and the UK.  Detectives Elise Wassermann (Clémence Posey) and Karl Roebuck (Stephen Dillane) are forced into an uncomfortable international alliance when they are both sent to investigate the crime.

A Europe in crisis is the backdrop to this series and like the original, the killers have some points about the moral bankruptcy of modern society they would like to bring to the attention of the world via elaborate and rather terrifying methods. 

Series one of The Tunnel stays close to the original series plot, while the second and third series head into completely different story lines.

Seasons 1 - 3 of The Tunnel are available to stream at SBS On Demand

 

From the archive: The Bridge superfan Tanya Modini stops by the The Playlist studio to discuss her obsession with the show and recent trip to meet the cast and producers of the show.

 

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