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by Ari Gunnar Thorsteinsson
January 14, 2014 11:48 AM
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'The Bridge': Why This Border-Spanning Detective Story Has Been Remade In Three Countries

Sofia Helin and Kim Bodnia in 'Bron/Broen' -- the original Scandinavian 'The Bridge'

The 2011 Danish/Swedish co-production "Bron/Broen" presented a unique and irresistible premise. The halves of two human bodies -- one a politician, the other a prostitute -- are found on the massive five-mile Öresund bridge that connects Sweden and Denmark. The discovery of the partial corpses sets off a series of murders by a killer intending to point out the societal problems plaguing both countries, forcing two mismatched detectives, Saga Norén (Sofia Helin) and Martin Rohde (Kim Bodnia), from each side of the bridge to team up to solve the case. Coming on the heels of some immensely popular made-for-TV crime stories -- "The Killing" in Denmark and the adaptations of Stieg Larsson's "Millennium trilogy" in Sweden -- the series itself functioned as a team-up for the two countries' public service television networks, which co-produced the series.


Given the fact that the series was a success throughout the world, finally arriving in the U.S. via Hulu today, an American remake of the material was seemingly unavoidable. FX's take on the series, which stars Demián Bichir and Diane Kruger and premiered in July of last year, made some drastic changes to the original premise. Instead of focusing on the subtle and almost imperceptible differences and societal problems of two similar countries, "The Bridge" situates its story in El Paso and Ciudad Juárez on the US/Mexico border.

A more faithful remake of the original series probably would have dealt with a Canadian and an American police officer solving these crimes (and indeed FX's original plan was to set the series around Ambassador Bridge connecting Detroit with Windsor, Ontario), but perhaps the pulpy possibilities and wealth of underexplored social tensions offered by the U.S.'s southern border and a need to distance the series from AMC's remake of "The Killing" in setting and color palate made the change unavoidable.

Both series present two points of interest for viewers -- the serial killer narrative and the exploration of the differences between the two countries in which the story takes place. FX's series actually managed to handle the story of the killer and the ultimate reveal of his intentions far better than the original series.

The American "The Bridge" places less emphasis on the killer's social criticism.

It introduced the killer earlier and integrated the character better with the other cast members. The improvement is clearest in the series' dénouement -- a stand-off set on the titular Bridge of the Americas -- where the killer's motives throughout the series are revealed once and for all. The scene utilizes a significant character whose Scandinavian counterpart was unceremoniously killed, giving every moment greater weight and significance for every character involved. 

The American "The Bridge" places less emphasis on the killer's social criticism -- the original Scandinavian drama has the killer offering up a series of five societal truths that he plans to expose throughout his killing spree. This numerical count-down device feels indebted to David Fincher's "Seven" -- and when it's clear that the killer has other, more personal motives -- too insubstantial to take seriously. While the FX version of the killer still targets victims of different social stature, he is allowed to be less literal about his criticism, and the moniker "the truth terrorist" used in the original series never gets uttered by detectives Sonya Cross and Marco Ruiz, played by Kruger and Bichir.

'The Bridge'

But even if the killer is less pointed in his criticism, an exploration into the issues affecting Mexico and the U.S. is unavoidable. Since the uneven distribution of wealth effects people in both Scandinavia and North America, "The Bridge" is able to use similar versions of the subplots that take place in "Bron/Broen," but with increased focus on drug running, tunnels underneath the border and illegal immigration from one country to the other -- important issues that could never have been tackled by the original series.

But if "Bron/Broen" was somewhat clumsy about the reveal of its main antagonist, you never got the sense that it didn't take its milieu seriously. It's therefore a bit of a shame to see how the Juárez and El Paso of "The Bridge" seem less like reality and more indebted to the pulpy universes of other television shows dealing with similar issues in similar locales.