Men and Chicken (2015)

A bizarre black comedy by Anders Thomas Jenson, Men and Chicken plunges us messily into the grotesque underbelly of genetics.

Fowl play

by Alexa Dalby

Men and Chicken

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Men and Chicken is an absurd tale told through ponderous slapstick, outrageous black comedy and a bit of philosophy. Its characters are five dysfunctional, societally challenged brothers, all of them recognisably related because of their hare lips.

It’s set in motion when mild-mannered university lecturer Gabriel (David Dencik) and his violent brother, compulsive masturbator and luster after women Elias (an unrecognisably manic Mads Mikkelsen) learn from an absurd living-will video made by their dying father that they are adopted and their real father is called Evelio Thanatos. Gabriel’s subsequent research reveals that Thanatos is a 100-year-old scientist and geneticist living on the remote Danish island of Ork. Despite their strained relationship, they make a trip together to meet their real father.

The dilapidated former sanatorium where the locals tell them their father lives is inhabited by three grotesquely insane and violent men, the eldest of whom attacks them with a large stuffed bird. After a stand-off of mutual suspicion, they discover these are additional half-brothers of around their own age that they never knew existed, living in squalid isolation from the real world, and shielding their aged father from visitors. While they wait to meet him, Gabriel and Elias end up staying with the three (Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Søren Malling and Nicolas Bro) in the sinister, crumbling, filthy building where chickens and goats run wild in the corridors and no one will let them see what’s locked up in their father’s laboratory in the cellar.

Elias fits in well with the madness and he mentors the brothers in their crude lust for women, something they have no idea how to satisfy, though sometimes a chicken will suffice. A visit he organises to the local old people’s home is a high spot. Gabriel is more connected to reality and he tries to educate them using the Bible, but they deconstruct it like a science manual – the only reading matter their father allowed them.

As even more unsavoury and grotesque truths emerge, reminiscent of HG Wells’ The Island of Dr Moreau, Gabriel tries to get the brothers institutionalised. Tiny Ork has a population of 43. If it drops below 40, the Danish government will cease to recognise it, so the corrupt Mayor Flemming (Ole Thestrup) aims to keep the brothers there at any cost, even though their bestial behaviour is a danger to the small community.

Anders Thomas Jensen (After the Wedding, In a Better World and the award-winning Adam’s Apples) is best-known for his screenplays for Danish director Susanne Bier (In a Better World, The Night Manager). Men and Chicken (original Danish title Mænd og Høns) is a Marmite movie. It’s a warped comedy about genetics, a slapstick farce, an existential enquiry, and it’s likely to be a cult movie. Some will find it hilarious but for others it will simply not be funny. In the end, as the film says, “Life is life” and we’re all different.

Men and Chicken is released on 15 July 2016 in the UK.

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