If Julian Assange taught us anything, it’s that Benedict Cumberbatch looks weird with Targaryen hair. If he taught us anything else, it’s that people are shit at keeping secrets. Even when faced with pretty good reasons to keep things under wraps, information is such a valuable social commodity that we all want to have it and we feel great dishing it out. But what does this have to do with a Norwegian movie about trolls?
Troll Hunter follows a group of student filmmakers who meet a man named Hans who turns out to be Norway’s foremost (and only) troll hunter.
As it turns out, trolls are real. They’re big, dumb animals, who troll through forests and mountains. Hans’ job is to find trolls who have wandered away from their designated habitats and destroy them. Importantly, though, he doesn’t just kill the trolls, he demolishes their remains so that no one will know that they ever existed in the first place. You see, Hans works for a branch of the government called the Troll Security Service. His job is to contain the population so that no one knows about these unmajestic, mythological beasts.
In theory, Hans is protecting humans from trolls by keeping the large, dangerous animals away from human populations. He is also protecting the trolls from human intervention. Despite the violent means that Hans uses to act out his duties, he makes it clear that trolls are animals; they eat, breathe, breed, and live like other mammals, just on an enormous scale. So, you end up with Hans, the thin line between ignorant peace and absolute troll/human chaos. The problem is, everyone is really, really, really bad at keeping the secret.
For starters, for what is supposed to be a secret branch of the government, why the hell would you call it the “Troll Security Service.” It’s right there in the name! It’s like on The Simpsons when a surveillance van has “Flowers By Irene” painted on the side. It gets even sloppier when you see that Hans, like any other government employee, is mired in bureaucracy. Part of his job is to fill out a form describing, in detail, everything about each troll he kills, from its number of heads to its manner of destruction. And where does Hans choose to fill out this very detailed form? A diner. A public diner. A public diner where he is speaking openly. And loudly. About his job. To a group of kids who are recording him.
Secondly, as I mentioned before, Hans is the only troll hunter in the entire country. There are tons of trolls, spanning various types and breeds, and there is one single guy, armed with a truck and some fancy UV lights, separating an entire species from about 5 million other Norwegians.
Thirdly, while Hans does have some oversight, his direct superior is a model of ineptitude. Focused more on cover-up than actually getting the work done, Hans’ boss shows up after the slaughter and helps create cover stories about bear attacks to explain any bizarre phenomena. Despite this being a central part of his job, the boss’ cover-ups are immediately discredited by local hunters who recognize the stories’ inconsistencies.
All this being said, the point of this article isn’t to poke holes in the incompetence of the Troll Security Service, rather it is to recognize that people are terrible at secrecy and that cool stuff simply can’t stay under wraps. Even Hans, the man on the ground floor of the troll conspiracy, the man whose care for these animals would give him the most cause to keep them hidden, ultimately decides to share his story with the world. He doesn’t benefit from divulging his secrets and no one is paying him to betray the spirit of his job. He just possesses some incredible information and wants to share it with other people.
Obviously, then, information is powerful. If bureaucracy, job security, and personal feelings can’t contain a good secret, what can? It seems that the only way for something to stay out of the public consciousness is for it to be so disruptive to the status quo that its rejection is just easier than accepting a new reality. Considering how poorly managed the trolls’ secrecy is, Norway, or at least parts of it near bridges, caves, and mountains, seems to be repressing the knowledge, adopting a cultural defence mechanism so that no one has to cope with the possibility that there are literally 200-foot-tall monsters just traipsing around the countryside.
Even when faced with evidence of the extraordinary, there is a strong desire to expose its falsehood. The opening of Troll Hunter is a text intro that says that film was compiled from found footage and that it is only now being released after a lot of time spent arguing over its authenticity. We, as the actual audience, recognize that the movie is a work of fiction, but suspension of disbelief insists that we accept that, for these characters, this all actually happened. Even within the film’s universe, there is an unwillingness to accept dozens of hours of footage as proof that trolls could possibly exist.
But, as powerful as the desire is to lead an undisrupted life, knowledge and information still erode collective ignorance. Troll Hunter ends with the film-making crew being accosted by some representatives of either the TSS or whoever they answer to. The government, the body whose only official stance on trolls is a prolonged shhhhhhhh, goes out of its way to locate and deal with the group of people they know are in the process of exposing their 200-foot secret. The movie ends ambiguously but I think it’s safe to suggest that if you chase someone carrying a camera containing footage you don’t want the world to see, it’s going to be a priority for you to get that back. If that’s the case, then how did we get to see the movie? The very organization whose goal is to promote secrecy is incapable of controlling the dissemination of its most sensitive information.
Information, especially the interesting, sexy kind, has an impetus to get itself spread. Secrecy is an illusion, assisted by repression and delayed by arrogance. But ultimately, secrets get out. The troll can’t stay under the bridge forever.
Dylan Clark-Moore is a podcast creator and blogger at NetFlakes. You can find him on Letterboxd and Twitter.
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Troll Hunter is also available from Amazon.