Pusher 3: I Am The Angel of Death

Note: This review relies too heavily on plot synopsis and fails to arrive at any meaningful conclusions.  A C+ at best.

The climax of Pusher 3 all but obliterates everything that comes before and after it. The sequence in question, which lasts about five minutes, is gruesome in the extreme, verging from the crime genre into horror.

The narrative plays out over twenty-four hours. Milo, a drug supplier on the wrong side of fifty, confronts a series of significant events: his spoiled and calculating daughter’s twenty-fifth birthday, his relapse into heroin use, and a drug deal gone sideways.

Against his better judgement, Milo allows a young Turkish gang-banger named Little Muhammed to sell an unwanted shipment of ecstasy obtained from a gang of narcos. (Originally, Milo made a deal to buy heroin.) When Muhammed vanishes, Milo is unable to pay for the dope and the mobsters tell him he can discharge his debt by doing them a few favors. As his family and friends celebrate his daughter’s birthday at a restaurant just down the street, Milo is forced to make his club available to two men for a human trafficking deal.

A Polish slaver wants to sell a clearly terrified young woman into prostitution, but the elegant yet brassy madame who arrives to examine this prospect refuses on principle, calling the Pole, who doesn’t speak Danish, a “cocksucker” as she leaves. The Pole’s Albanian counterpart departs on some unspecified business soon after, and when no one appears to be looking the young woman attempts to escape. She’s caught and dragged back to the club with Milo’s help, though despite his involvement he seems genuinely conflicted– perhaps because he is thinking of his own daughter mere yards away.

When the Pole starts to punish the girl by pouring boiling water on her hands, Milo loses control and kills him with a hammer. Almost immediately the Albanian returns, and out of necessity Milo kills him as well.

Smoking some heroin to relax, Milo lifts his head when the club’s buzzer sounds. It is a crooked cop, who has found Little Muhammed at Milo’s behest and now has him duct-taped in the trunk of his cruiser.

Milo leaves the bodies of the men he’s just murdered in the club and goes in search of an old acquaintance, Radovan, for help. After torturing Muhammed for information by partially suffocating him with a plastic bag, Milo realizes that the ecstasy he is trying to pay off is fake and that Muhammed, while irritating, is not attempting to defraud him. Radovan and Milo throw Muhammed into a refrigerator and head back to the club to clean up.

It is at this point that the film’s climax arrives. The disposal of a human corpse is of necessity a messy endeavor, and Pusher 3‘s director, Nicolas Winding Refn, compels the audience to witness most of that process. Within moments we realize that we are in some kind of hell, as the body of the Polish slaver is hung by its ankles, exsanguinated, and disemboweled. The visuals are so grotesque that occasionally the sequence verges on the comic, as when Radovan comes into the kitchen to ask Milo– who is busily stuffing the Pole’s internal organs down a garbage disposal– if there is an electric saw on the premises.

Thankfully, we do not witness the disarticulation of the bodies. Instead, there is a cut to Radovan cleaning a butcher knife and then another cut to a pile of gleaming, carefully-tied plastic garbage bags.

The final minutes of Pusher 3 follow Milo to his daughter’s house, where he speaks with her briefly about the party he’s missed (It was almost like Mama was there, she tells her widowed father) and drinks a cup of coffee.

The last shot, from an extreme low angle that seems to be from the vantage of the bottom of an empty swimming pool, shows Milo smoking a cigarette. In an interview with Film Threat Refn argues that the swimming pool is particularly resonant at a symbolic level:

“When we saw the pool at location the owners wanted to clean it and fill it up. We said, ‘No, keep it the way it is. We won’t use it. Don’t worry about it.’ For me, a swimming pool kind of represents success. If you have a house with a swimming pool I guess you have success. But if your swimming pool is an illusion, it’s broken and distorted and ruined. But the image is there.

“A lot of the media world manufactures crime as an image of glamour and excitement. But within that image, there is decay. For me, that swimming pool represented the image of glamour – but it was really decay. In a way, coming home and going to the swimming pool and staring into decay is also a symbol of his own relationship with his family.”