Written by Ali Abbasi, Isabella Eklöf, & John Ajvide Lindqvist
Directed by Ali Abbasi
Tina lives a secluded life, markedly different from everyone around her from a chromosomal abnormality compared to the humans that populate her world. She has a pronounced brow ridge and protruding teeth recalling images of long-extinct Neanderthals. What makes her valuable to people is her ability to smell guilt and shame making her a perfect customs agent at a Swedish port of entry. After years of ferreting out contraband, she eventually meets a man who shares her facial deformities and seems to be beyond her ability to detect evil. There is an attraction between them that develops and leads Tina to discover the truth about her past and the lies she has been told her whole life.
Border manages to evoke the rich natural world of folklore while addressing contemporary questions surrounding body dysmorphia in a way that left me stunned. The film feels like it exists slightly out of any specific period yet perfect for this era. There are a lot of what could be considered plot twists but the director and script handle them with care so that they never feel exploitative and operate as further development of our main character. Tina has lived a sheltered life, raised in the woods by her adoptive parents and still in her childhood home, now with a user boyfriend. Her father is a retirement home, slowly succumbing to dementia but still lucid enough to remember fragments of Tina’s childhood.
Tina is intentionally presented as physically grotesque and awkward, but as we get to know her, we see what a caring soul she possesses. Her job leads her to uncover a child exploitation ring and the local police want her to use her abilities to help them narrow down which apartment the operation is based out of. Conflict comes up where she is told that humans are undeserving of her empathy and she should allow them to hurt each other. This is so antithetical to Tina’s core values that she ends up discovering strength in herself; she has not been aware of up to this point.
The body horror/fantasy of the movie is utterly fascinating and will undoubtedly cause audiences to think about the struggles trans people must deal with during their process. Society has wholly convinced Tina of the “wrongness” of her body, and she has succumbed to this indoctrination. It takes the appearance of someone like her and a surprising discovering about this stranger’s anatomy that leads to Tina’s realization. Tina’s boyfriend is cheating on her, and she almost sees this as a relief. The one time we see him attempt to initiate sex has her reminding him how painful it is for her and then ultimately tossing him onto the floor. Because there is a cultural expectation that she engages in sex in a particular role she has been unable to understand her sexuality. Eventually, she will discover what sex is for her and how that doesn’t adhere to the cultural norms.
Border is the second film to come from the work of writer John Ajvide Lindqvist; the first being Let the Right One In. That film also dealt with the use of horror as a means of exploring a sexual awakening. Both Tina and the protagonist of Right One have a stranger come into their lives, creating a disrupting that leads to both positive and negative consequences. I would argue Tina has the happier ending of the two and leaves us knowing her future is uncertain but that her life will be something that makes her happy. Tina will continue to drift further from humanity and likely live out her days in (relative) solitude but be confident in her identity.