Pusher II: With Blood on My Hands: Bad Luck and Impotence
(If you missed my previous essay on Refn’s Fear X check it out HERE)
In 2003, Nicolas Winding Refn had fallen on hard times. His last two films were box office failures and his film production company went bankrupt. He had tried the big budget Hollywood approach, failed, and left the Americas with his tail between his legs. He decided then, while in Denmark, to go back to basics. He re-hired his old cinematographer Morten Soborg and actors Mads Mikkelson and Zlatko Buric to create a second chapter in his Pusher film universe. It was a risky gambit and if it failed this might be the last chance he had to make feature films with anything like a budget. But he succeeded once again, the film was lucrative, and Refn went on to have a pretty robust career in the following years.
In the original Pusher film, Frank seemed on the brink of death if caught by any of the crime contingents in the Copenhagen underground world. He had pissed off too many people. Fans of Frank will be glad to hear that he somehow escaped the city and is referenced as having gone missing and being impossible to track down by the Serbian drug lord Milo.
Tonny and Frank were partners in crime at one time, but Frank went berserk and beat Tonny to a bloody pulp because he thought that Tonny ratted on him to the police. Ever since then, Tonny has had a hard time remembering events before then. The brain damage he sustained then seems to permanently affected his IQ and competency. In Pusher II, Tonny begins the story inside a prison. He owes money to the head honcho of a gang inside, protection money, and once released he goes to his father to work to earn it. His father Smeden, the Copenhagen underground’s Duke, gives him some money and reluctantly agrees to let him work at his garage stealing and turning over cars from dealerships and unsuspecting civilians.
Then comes the string of fuck-ups that proliferate and fill the space of the film. Tonny hasn’t had sex since before he went into the pen. now, his friend Kurt the Cunt offers him access to his harem of prostitutes for a night. But Tonny can’t get it up. His literal impotence in this scene is comical, but its source is hard to pinpoint for sure. Potentially caused by his brain injury, by stress, by feelings of inadequacy over his father constantly berating his stupidity. Whatever the cause, it’s hard to pinpoint a potential cause that is ultimately Tonny’s fault alone.
He steals a Ferrari off the street and brings it by his father’s shop as a gift. But The Duke can’t hock something like that at the drop of a hat. If it stays in the shop, cops might come nosing around and put him out of business. His father nearly beats him with a crowbar for his incompetence, but Tonny takes the car away, Later, he finds out that a prostitute he slept with before going to prison, Charlotte, has had a child. And she claims that its Tonny’s because although she’s slept with “half the town” he was only man unlucky and dumb enough to not pull out in time.
Tonny gets a job for his father with the rest of crew. They break into a car dealership, take five cars, and plan to bring them to the harbor where they will be stored in large crates for shipment to customers. As soon as the first car pulls out of the dealership, however, a woman hits it with her car on accident. One of the five men picks up the driver of the now wrecked vehicle and head on toward the checkpoint. Here, Tonny hasn’t fucked up, but the heist did not go off without a hitch and as such, The Duke isn’t overly praiseworthy. Soon thereafter, Tonny goes to visit his mother to borrow some money, but finds that she no longer lives in the apartment she once did on account of her passing away some months ago.
Another time, Tonny and Kurt rent a hotel room to do a drug deal with Milo. They trade him cash for some white, but all Milo has is scag. And he won’t rescind the deal. Then one of his friends arrive with food for the group, but Kurt is paranoid and thinks its the cops when the doorbell rings. He quickly flushes the drugs down the toilet. Milo won’t refund the deal. He didn’t flush the drugs after all. Because of Kurt’s paranoia and stupidity, and Tonny’s bad luck to be there, the two are now in a bad position. They owe the front money for the drug deal. Kurt concocts a plan to evade reprisal. He has Tonny shoot him in the arm to make it look like the dealers took the money and the drugs. He then asks Tonny to come back to his house and wreck it with a baseball bat to make it look like they are out to get him. This will hopefully buy him some time. But there are two problems. One of Kurt’s prostitutes is in the house and Kurt beats her to death with a baseball to ensure she can’t say what actually happened. The second problem: the man they owe money to is revealed to Tonny to be The Duke, his father.
Instead of facing the music, Kurt runs away from Copenhagen, leaving Tonny with the debt to his father. The only way Tonny can think to avoid being killed by his father for his outstanding debts is to offer to kill his father’s ex-wife Jeanette who is the mother of Tonny’s half-brother. This will end her continued attempts to gain custody of the boy and make The Duke pretty happy. But when it comes time to kill the woman, Tonny again can’t get it up to do the deed and instead performs a different sort of wet job with the woman in her cathouse. When he comes to his father the next day to tell him that he couldn’t go through with it, but will try again, The Duke goes into a rage and tells Tonny how much he hates him and has always hated him. Tonny then kills the Duke.
His father was the force that pushed him into the world of crime in the first place. He was man who did not give Tonny the guidance and care he needed to develop into a strong-willed, able sort of person. By killing the father, Tonny overcomes his fixations and himself. He takes the reins of his future into his own hands, while simultaneously ensuring that he will no longer be safe in Denmark. He must, like frank, escape the city and live a fugitive life. But hopefully in that head-down, anonymous lifestyle he can become a stronger, more virtuous person. As he plans to leave the city, he goes to Charlotte’s apartment and when she leaves and her girlfriend runs off to the bathroom, Tonny makes his move and takes his child away from the criminal underworld.
In a way, Tonny became the father over time. Both had sex with a prostitute and conceived a child. Both lived in a criminal underground and hocked cars. But Tonny knows he is fucked up because of the experience and won’t allow his child to be raised by a crazed, coke-head, whore in that same environment. So he takes the child and flees. And hopefully, escapes unnoticed to somewhere he can raise the boy away from the seedy sort of life and socioeconomic conditions that made him the way he is, and made his father the way he was.
The film ends with the sustained image of the back of Tonny’s head while riding a bus out of town. The tattoo emblazoned across it reads “Respect.” Something he so dearly craved from his father for years, but finally realized he could only gain through the actions of his own hands, the grabbing of the reigns of his own sleigh-fate, and through respecting himself first and foremost. And if that ain’t a lesson, I don’t what is.
[Next up: Pusher III]