A SUMMARY OF THE FILM
We hear a radio announcer mention, between two songs, that there is a half hour left before the polling booths close, and we see the main character - Peter (Ulrich Thomsen) - running into the bar in which the radio was playing. The following conversation ensues:
(taking off his coat and addressing Carl, already seated at the bar)
Hey. Sorry I'm late. We just sent 2,000 blankets to Albania. 
Why the hell to they need blankets?
There's a civil war, Carl.
Exactly. Being armed with a blanket, how cool is that?
They might be a bit cold, you know.
(to bartender, Willy)
I'll have another. One for Peter too.
Hang on. Shouldn't we try that new Mexican beer? You know…
I refuse to drink Mexican beer.
And what exactly does that mean?
I'm not drinking fuckin' Mexican beer. (To bartender) Carlsberg.
And Dos Equis for you?
(as Peter nods yes)
Dos Episs? Drink something you can pronounce.
You're a racist, you know that?
Get outta here.
No, you're a racist. You're afraid of anything that's different.
It's just a beer.
It's more than that. That's how it starts. That's racism.
I prefer Carlsberg too.
You're a damn racist too. You go along with everyone. Silence gives consent. You should ask half of the bar to beat it and say: "I won't hear that in here."
We're not racists. Willy here just gave the socialists his vote.
…I forgot to vote.
Such an idealist.
How could I forget? What time is it?
You're not gonna make it. Sit down.
There'll be other elections.
(putting his coat on)
I have to vote.
Peter rushes out, flags a taxi and asks to be driven to the polls. The driver makes vulgar and offensive remarks about Arabs smelling of garlic and Africans who should go back home. When Peter objects to the driver's racist attitudes, the driver insists on his right to his own opinions and Peter demands to be let out of the cab.
On the street again, Peter flags down a second cab, and this time the driver - with strains of Wagnerian music in the background - expresses his admiration for the Third Reich and deplores the corruption of Aryan purity by Africans and Turks. Again Peter is out on the street looking for a cab.
The third driver is of Middle Eastern origins and makes comical mistakes in speaking Danish. When passing a corner shop, he complains that a good kiosk has been replaced by a sushi bar, and goes on about the virtues of kebab, finally complaining the "yellow bastards" who had attacked Pearl Harbor have now killed a good store. Once again, Peter is gone and a hole in the upholstery where he had been sitting indicates the second-rate character of the taxi he has just abandoned.
Peter runs down the street toward another taxi but decides not to get in when he sees the driver's peaked hat with a Confederate flag at its front.
Instead Peter runs the remaining distance to the polls, through the rain, and finally arrives at the front door of the polling station as a black woman is in the process of closing it. He puts his foot in the door but she won't let him in, saying they have already begun counting the votes. He ignores her repeated requests that he remove his foot and finally tells her: "I'm also voting for the sake of your people, you know?" to which she replies: "Get your fucking foot out, you racist pig." Another man approaches from the street and when the black woman complains that Peter is making racist remarks, the other man asks Peter: "Are you hassling the coons?" and punches him in the face.
The final scene returns us to the bar, as a familiar Danish ballad is played on the radio.
(noticing Peter's bruised face)
Did you vote?
Your Pissos is getting warm.
(to the bartender)
Give me a cool Carlsberg.
(to the bartender)
Make it three on me.
The three men say "cheers" to one another and in perfect harmony drink their beers together.
A COMMENTARY ON THE FILM
Though Election Night is designed largely as "an entertainment," playfully taking up its themes and introducing twists and turns more for their comic value than as a serious social commentary, the film is nevertheless a vehicle in which attitudes toward racism and "Danishness" in contemporary Denmark are given a prominent position. And whether or not the screenwriter/director intended for his film to be taken seriously in this regard, it is legitimate to ask exactly what the film implies about the attitudes with which it plays.
Central to an understanding of the film's politics is an awareness of the positive or negative value implicitly attached to the attitudes toward ethnic minorities or toward "Danishness" that are expressed in the film and to the characters embodying those attitudes. Clarifying the status attributed to these attitudes and characters is a way of sorting out just where the film itself stands with respect to the social issues it takes up.
In some scenes in this film, the status of given attitudes is clear and unmistakable, while in other scenes, the situation is more complex and open to more than one interpretation. Let's begin with the cases in which we are in no doubt whatsoever as to how we are invited to view the attitudes embodied on the screen.
Each of the taxi drivers in Election Night is a racist in one way or another, and though we are entertained by the outrageousness of their racist remarks, there is no question in our mind as to the negative status attributed to their attitudes by the filmmaker. This applies to comments about Arabs stinking of garlic, Africans who should go back to where they belong, the virtues of the Third Reich and Aryan purity, the Japanese characterized as "yellow bastards," and the meaning of wearing a Confederate flag on one's cap. And just as each of these embodiments of racism is given a reprehensible status in our eyes, we are invited to applaud Peter's objections to the racist remarks and to view Peter as our own representative within the film - in each of the taxi scenes. In these scenes, there is no mistaking the film's politics on the issue of racism, and the fact that one of the taxi drivers ridiculed by the film is himself a member of an ethnic minority, is comically paradoxical but in no way blurs our perception of the reprehensible nature of his racist remarks.
However, it is far more difficult to understand the politics in play in the three other scenes in Election Night: the opening scene in the bar, the scene at the door to the polling station, and the final bar scene. Let's look at each of them in turn and attempt to clarify just what status Peter is implicitly given by the film.
In the opening scene, Peter can be viewed in two very different ways.
We can see him positively, as a man engaged in humanitarian work (providing blankets to the Albanians), as someone open to what other cultures have to offer (such as Mexican beer), and as a person who is admirably on guard against disparaging remarks about other cultures. If Peter is seen in this light, then his friend Carl is a negative figure, embodying a hostile attitude toward other cultures and the kind of relationship to "Danishness" one might expect of a xenophobe. This is expressed most clearly in his references to Mexican beer as piss. Similarly - again, in this perspective - we are invited to take Peter's side when he chastises the bartender for not objecting to the racist remarks frequently made by his customers. Viewed in this light, Peter's characterization of Carl and of the bartender as racists is at least partly justified and Peter is our man in this scene.
But the opening scene can be interpreted in a radically different way as well, with Peter viewed as a smug, self-satisfied, professional humanitarian, eager to prove to others and to himself that he holds the right attitudes, and perfectly prepared to attack as a racist anyone whose utterances can be interpreted as being politically incorrect. Seen in this perspective, Carl and the bartender are easy-going, reasonable people, unashamed of their perfectly legitimate preferences, while Peter is uptight, judgmental, and intolerant in his outlook.
This initial scene is open to both interpretations, though as will soon be shown, the final scene in the bar tips us off as to which of these views is the one that is ultimately endorsed by the film.
The scene at the polling station stands out from the others in that here, it is Peter who is called a racist, while in the opening scene and in the taxi scenes, Peter condemns what he sees as the racism of others. In other words, here at the door to the polling station, the filmmaker turns the tables on Peter and comically gives him a dose of his own medicine.
We are of course initially on Peter's side in his desperate quest to cast a vote. But as his behavior is framed in this scene, we are meant to see him as going too far when he puts his foot in the door and as crossing a delicate line when addressing the black woman (played by Hella Joof). His references to "your people" are perceived by her as offensive, and we are implicitly invited to see Peter as having placed himself in a weak and indefensible position. And although it is a joke that the passerby who punches Peter in the face does so for annoying "the coons," the comedy involved in this scene and the unfairness of the black woman's characterization of Peter as a "racist pig," do not entirely rescue Peter in our eyes. He has lost status and to some degree at least, we are meant to feel that what happens to him in this scene serves him right.
In the final scene, we see a defeated and deflated Peter. His face is bruised and raincoat dirty, he lies twice - both about what had happened to him and about having voted, and the self-assured manner he had in the earlier scenes has now given way to a much weaker self-presentation. And he now performs a symbolic act that snaps the initial scene into its proper perspective: he orders a Carlsberg, instead of drinking the Mexican beer he had asked for at the start. This tells us that he himself has now rejected the position he represented in that initial scene, and that he now understands that he was in the wrong at that time.
Where does all this leave us? How can we describe the overall politics of the film, with respect to the issues of racism and "Danishness"?
As I have tried to show, the position Peter embodies in the initial bar scene is retrospectively discredited in the final scene when he orders a Carlsberg. Whether or not this discrediting of Peter's anti-racist stance also casts some doubt retrospectively on his status in the taxi scenes is an open question. Logically speaking, it should, if the film defines his flaring up against racist remarks as smug and self-serving. Furthermore, there is no character in the film who represents an authentic - that is, an un discredited - anti-racist position. But I don't wish to exaggerate the importance of logic in this connection.
What I do wish to conclude is that this film can appeal both to those who object to racist remarks and to those who are eager to see such objectors roundly put in their place. Both anti-racists and racists, both multi-culturalists and xenophobes, can feel that their position is endorsed by this film. Even in the taxi scenes, where we are unmistakably invited to view the drivers' racist remarks as reprehensible, some of the humor is at the expense of the only foreigner in the film: the Middle Eastern taxi driver who is ridiculed a) for his manner of speaking (he says things like "In one year I become citizenship" in a naively self-satisfied tone); b) for his rabidly racist (anti-Japanese) outlook; and c) for the shoddy condition of his cab (the glaring hole in the upholstery). Wherever you stand with respect to foreigners and racism, something in the scene will appear to justify your own position.
That Election Night is a highly entertaining and well-crafted film is certainly the case; that it is also fundamentally ambiguous with respect to its political meaning is - I believe - equally beyond question.
In making this point, I do not wish to imply that the screenwriter/director intended to bring grist to the mill of xenophobes. What I suspect is that the political implications in play at various moments of the film were overshadowed in the screenwriting process by considerations of the entertainment value or storytelling opportunities inherent in those moments, and that the politics of the resulting film are more an almost haphazard by-product of storytelling choices than a matter of deliberate design.
1 Tivi Magnusson at M&M Productions kindly authorized my citing the full dialogue of the opening scene, and the use of stills included in this article.
2 We find out subsequently - in the second taxi scene - that Peter works for a humanitarian organization based in Frankfurt.
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