Nordic noir: the Nordic values that lie behind it

Saturday night, on a cold winter day. This is the perfect setting for what is about to be played on the television. Why? Well, grey weather, darkness, cold, winter mood. These are all elements associated with the popular Nordic noir. Add some pizza, tacos with dips and loads of sweets and you got the recipe for the best mys (the Swedish more easy-going version of hygge).

Most people have a very utopic image of the Nordic countries: the perfect societies, with people who are very educated and socially conscious, with the best welfare systems in the world and the greenest way of life. But hey! Nordic noir is not about having a happy life in the Nordics. On the contrary, it is about dark stories of investigating mysterious crimes. All this in a melancholic setting.

But how come? Why is there this paradox? Are there any Nordic values hidden behind the mysteries?

What is Nordic noir?

Having been largely influenced by post-WWI film noir, Nordic noir is a new genre of motion picture that includes:
  • dark settings, either in urban or remote natural environments, with low light and lots of shadows
  • brutal crimes, that usually shock the otherwise safe and peaceful local communities
  • far from perfect detectives, with their own flaws and often mysterious past or inner struggles
  • an agonizing plot, with many twists and unexpected turns

Why has it been so popular?

Needless to say that maybe the first and foremost reason why Nordic noir has become so popular is the setting. Dark urban or majestically mysterious natural, people love it. Several cities in Scandinavia have become hot because of their part in a Nordic noir series, like Copenhagen or Malmö in Sweden.Wait! This is not about travelling. It is about brutal crimes, right? Yes, exactly that. They also serve as an answer to the question “Does Nordic utopia really exist?”. People from all around the world get a different less perfect image of the Nordic. And this serves as a boost in their national ego. “Yeah yeah, there is criminality and social inequality in Scandinavia too”.

What lies behind the dark Nordicness? 

Guess what! There is more substance behind the ferocious killings, plotted in Nordic noir series and movies. No wonder!

One of the most apparent Nordic elements is that of gender equality. Why all crime detectives have to be men? Nordic noir feature equally strong and capable female detectives, like Sarah Lund and Saga Norén.  Girl power!

Then, it is about Nordic openness and honesty. They are cited as the happiest countries on the planet but still, nowhere is a paradise. The stories reflect a sometimes not very apparent side of Nordic societies. Yes, crimes happen in Sweden too (maybe not in Iceland though!).

And all this is part of the Nordic people modesty and tendency to balance things. You know, they are happy but have a dark side too. They appreciate togetherness but also being alone in the dark alike. It’s their version of the yin and the yang. But this dark Nordic noir reality is not actually real. As soon as they switch off the telly, they return to  the real safety of their life in the Nordics

Oh! Let’s not forget to mention Sarah Lund’s jumper. One of the first and still most iconic Nordic noir items ever. For those not familiar, Sarah Lund was the detective in the Danish hit series “The Killing” and her jumper is a thick handknitted Faroese sweater.