It’s easy to look back on the 1970s now and laugh. Hippies, 8-Tracks and LPs, bell bottoms, disco and Afros. Ridiculous in retrospect, but it must not have seemed that way to those young adults who lived through the decade. Certainly the idealistic household full of folks living in the Swedish commune they call Tillsammans (“Together”) circa 1975 takes their life and times very seriously. This is apparent, not so much because they all agree on everything — they don’t — but because they make nearly each individual and/or collective decision only after thoroughly examining the socio-political ramifications of that decision to the nth degree…only to continue bickering about it days after the fact.
The philosophical debates over all the “important” issues are as easy as they one-sided: No TV in the house. A strictly vegetarian diet. An equal division of labor. The pros and cons of capitalism versus socialism. Still, while these issues lead to interesting, often even heated discussions, nothing generates as much upheaval in the insulated world of Tillsammans as the arrival of Elizabeth and her two children.
The sister of one of the collective’s residents, Elizabeth seeks refuge from an abusive alcoholic husband. While at Tillsammans, she essentially serves as our primary window into this foreign living arrangement. Through her eyes, we watch as the highly utopian life inside the collective gradually bows to reality; the bargaining over division of labor devolving into bickering, the delicate politics behind open relationships spiraling inevitably into pain, the unbridled idealism disintegrating like the Mir space station.
Intriguing as this fresh perspective is, however, looking at this strange and oddly enticing lifestyle through Elizabeth’s eyes pales in comparison to the perspective we gain by looking at the seemingly hopeless adults through the children’s eyes. Here is where director Lukas Moodysson’s offbeat and fondly amusing film really hits its stride. There’s no posing with Elizabeth’s kids; no hiding the puppy love crush the geeky bespectacled neighbor boy has on Elizabeth’s geeky bespectacled daughter, Eva. There’s nothing artificial about the little boys playing with toy soldiers or craving hot dogs. In fact, about the only thing preventing the kids from stealing the show away from the adults entirely is the fact that since the grown-ups themselves are such train wrecks waiting to happen, we simply have to watch the spectacle.
“Tillsammans” is an endearing look back on a foregone time; a charming, warmly comical film that simultaneously celebrates the unbridled idealism of young adulthood while reminding us that such naiveté may someday look as goofy as the leisure suit armed with the benefit of hindsight.