Corporate hell

The Inheritance portrays the sapping of a soul

Earlier this year, the searing documentary The Corporation addressed the conscienceless, destructive potential of the corporate mind-set where profit is the only God.

If you're looking for more proof, look to Danish film The Inheritance for evidence that the corporation is a kind of willful machine that destroys individuality in its wake. But even big business seems less sinister when measured next to the crushing Oedipal love dished out by the The Inheritance's Mommy Dearest (Ghita Norby).

The family steel company helmed by Christoffer (Ulrich Thomsen) proves especially destructive when the behind-the-scenes force calling the shots is a real Manchurian Candidate stage mom sporting enough mega-jewelry and oversized power scarves to wardrobe the entire staff of "The View."

The Inheritance begins with Christoffer basking in a milk-and-honey status quo, living in Stockholm with his wholesomely pretty actress wife, Maria (Lisa Werlinder). Their blonde-on-blonde bedroom cuddle fests are soon shattered when Christoffer's father kills himself, leaving the family's ailing Copenhagen steel mill in his trembling hands.

Despite wife Maria's warnings that the life of a corporate CEO will destroy him, Christoffer bites damnation's apple proffered by Annelise (Norby), the kind of castrating mother whose idea of soothing maternal words are, "Don't talk about your emotions."

In the process of pulling the company out of insolvency, Christoffer cans lifelong employees, fires his milquetoast brother-in-law and eventually alienates his own wife with his ever-expanding designs on Europe's steel industry.

Christoffer's Mr. Nice Guy slowly morphs into a Euro-Donald Trump, but director Per Fly's film offers us no sense of just how Christoffer actually feels about this turn of events. Nor does it convey why his bossy mama is able to push his buttons so effortlessly. Thomsen maintains a slightly flummoxed expression throughout The Inheritance, as if even he can't figure out how he so quickly became a corporate titan who destroys lives in the name of maximum profit.

Fly's milieu is a well-mannered WASP-dom where all the dirty-dealing is fairly routine, just business as usual in boardrooms and golf courses around the world. Like Thomas Vinterberg's The Celebration, which resembles The Inheritance and also starred Thomsen, the air of stability and calm is deceptive considering the devastation that unfolds beneath the skin. Fly has a subtle way of conveying how Christoffer's soul slowly seeps out of his pores, leaving a lifeless husk behind. The bright, silvery cinematography echoes Christoffer's world of polished, orderly surfaces and ultimately contributes to the psychological chill of so much dirty work going on in glistening plain view.

This Stepford Wives from the male vantage has nothing in it as nefarious as husbands who plot to replace their flat-chested women's libbers with double-D trophy wives. Instead, The Inheritance tracks a far more ordinary circumstance, in which men become consumed by the gamesmanship of big business, first finding difficulty and then mastery in the corporation's brutal organism.

The family dynasty storyline and wife vying with mama for sonny boy's affection can give The Inheritance a mildly soapy, Dallas groove. But it's that hollow angst at the center of The Inheritance that gives the film its final air of sadness and resignation as Christoffer watches the life that might have been slowly drift away.