In today’s world, we are bombarded with the concept of impending doom, though we tend to meet that bombardment with complacency. If the world is falling apart—the planet melting before us—and those in charge do little to nothing to stop this collective drowning, what are we to do as common people? Various methods exist to spur change: voting, peaceful protest, petition — however, there is also direct action.

Admittedly, I originally went to see Woman at War because my First-Year Experience class required me to attend a film hosted by an academic group on campus, but I got something worth more than one class credit from watching Benedikt Erlingsson’s 2018 film. Woman at War tells the story of Halla, an Icelandic woman who works mainly as a choir director. Secretly, however, she sabotages power lines in the Icelandic countryside in an attempt to interrupt the operations of an aluminum plant which plans on taking action to use more and more of the island’s resources. More plot points are eventually brought in: Halla has recently been approved to adopt a Ukrainian girl named Nika, but her sister (originally intended to be a backup guardian) has plans to leave the country under the watch of a guru. These added points of conflict, however, weren’t what fascinated me about the film — it was Halla’s direct action.

Direct action: the idea of creating a crisis so unavoidable that it must be addressed by those who have avoided the issue. Whether this action is violent or not depends on the actor, but Halla takes somewhat of a middle ground. Halla’s, for lack of a better term, eco-terrorism creates such an issue for the nation that officials are forced to address it; she destroys power lines, and she creates a manifesto. She never harms anyone physically, but she hurts the nation’s industry in order to necessitate the discussion of the issue of climate change. Halla is but one woman (with some help from her friend Baldvin, who works in the government), yet she is able to bring an industry to its knees, to force its hand and address the issues she cares about. She does all this without revealing her identity to anyone. Halla is the theoretical David up against the corporate Goliath.

Despite the film’s powerful message and theme of change through direct, trouble-making action, there is one issue. Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir (who portrays Halla) points out in an interview with Anne Brodie of WhatSheSaid Talk that, though this message is getting to those who care most about environmentalism and is being praised by activists, those who really need to be changed by this film and who should heed its warnings are not the ones mainly seeing it. This is not the fault of the film, but really a fault in mindset. It’s difficult to get someone to quickly change their views on something as large an issue as this, but by simply talking about the film—even beyond its content of feminism, environmentalism, and revolution—the previously uninterested may gain that curiosity. 

I had no expectations going into this film, but I’m glad that the Trabant Theater International Film Series gave a viewing of it. There were many others, like me, who had simply gone because we needed to go for a class. I could tell that many others in the theater were regulars of the Film Series, held every Sunday at 7:00 p.m. I feel that none of us would have even heard of this film without this on-campus group, but the film’s promotion by the group helps bring change to not just the campus, but the world. I’m sure this film will reach more people, as an English-language remake starring Jodie Foster is set to be released at some point, but who knows how the film’s message and revolutionary methods will change with the progression of time and with American staff.


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