(Cloud Studio’s cover for the 1971 edition)
4.5/5 (Very Good)
Anders Bodelsen’s Freezing Down (1969, trans. 1971) is a harrowing collision of SF tropes and the emotional landscape of Scandinavian noir. Bodelsen, “primarily associated with 1960s New-Realism in Danish literature,” might be best known to English-speaking audiences for writing the source material for the 1978 heist film The Silent Partner, starring Christopher Plummer and Elliott Gould.
Freezing Down, Bodelsen’s lone SF work, is an icy and complex (despite its brief length) speculation on the promise of immortality.
A forgotten masterpiece.
1973. Bruno is an editor. He’s constantly on the phone with his writers plying them with plots and themes, “he was the man with the most ideas” (5). He doesn’t write himself, but he has grand plans! He’s single. One day he meets a dancer named Jenny, who seems like one of his characters, distant, remote…. Ostensibly to gather ideas, he arrives at her house and discusses her goals, her desires, her drive for her art. While Bruno never implements his plans, Jenny gives all for hers. There’s a connection but Bruno cannot communicate his secret–his incurable illness and decision to wake up in another time through the process of “freezing down.”
1995. Bruno, after doctors discover a cure for his illness, emerges from his icy interlude, without his own kidneys. A new world order promises greatness, but beneath the veneer of immortality and progress, the limbs propping up humankind have rotted. Those that want immortality are forced to work to pay for their treatments. Those who decide to live out their natural lives, try whatever means possible to forget that death i.e. a preventable moment in life, is near. Not all are happy. Bruno observes agitators interrupting the infrequent flow of cars, only owned by doctors, outside the hospital. Bruno discovers a world where his talents seem useless, and Jenny, still alive but in a state of “freezing down,” has decades to wait until her own injuries can be cured. Bruno decides to re-enter his frozen state.
2022. The language has changed. The agitators grow in strength, but what they’re agitating for remains elusive. Connections are increasingly impossible to achieve—the anti-aging processes appear to introduce senility. Communication is fragmented and the events of the world outside of the hospital, a windowless environment of flickering lights, remains unknown: ‘Who ruled the world outside this building he was in? […] Did people read in this world?” (165). Bruno meets a thawed Jenny. Brunno tries to make connections. Jenny tries to dance: “Why does she keep falling?” (167). Bruno’s body deteriorates as restorative processes are interrupted by power cuts.
Freezing Down ends in a grotesque danse macabre of physical and intellectual decay. Immortality as an act of fragmentation….
Freezing Down is an unnerving exercise in physical and mental discomfort. A particular scene exemplifies my point. In 2022, the following tableau unfolds: Bruno, missing hair and fingernails, finally meets Jenny, recently thawed with a new spine installed. The hospital lights flicker in and out. A newly “young” Dr. Ackermann, who originally froze Bruno, periodically interrupts the emotion-drenched exchange, bewildered at the hospital’s flickering lights: “‘Don’t ask me […] No one tells me anything nowadays” (152). The poignant and aching moment is littered with Ackermann’s repetitive comments about Bruno’s missing body parts, and the candle in his pocket in case the lights go out… Ackermann confesses that “[He’s] long since given up trying to understand” (158).
Adding to the growing nightmare, Bodelsen deploys spatial constriction in each successive age. In 1973, Bruno moves in and out of the hospital if he needs to before the final countdown to his procedure. In 1995, only as his depression grows do the doctors move him to a new location as therapy. In 2022, the hospital no longer has windows, and the outside world is a great unknown.
Bruno’s increasingly restrictive perspective through which he views the world, is foreshadowed by the dominate image that begins and ends and is referenced throughout the text:
“[Bruno] wants to look at the thermometer outside the window, but he cannot because of the ice crystals. Still only half awake, he remembers how as a child he had put a coin on the radiator and then pressed it against the ice crystals to give himself a little hole he could peep through, out into a dark winter’s morning like this” (3).
And as time progresses, it becomes more and more difficult to see through the ice. The ice is no longer a barrier but a tomb. Bodelsen’s prose is characterized by an intensity made more and more unnerving as the ability to communicate and connect decays. Bodies might be resurrected in the semblance of earlier vitality but the future is not full of hope, the future is an alien landscape.
Find a copy.
(Uncredited cover for the 1969 Danish edition)
(Uncredited cover for the edition)
(Klaus Kammerichs and Heinz Edelmann’s cover for the 1971 German edition)
(Atelier Frank & Zaugg’s cover for the 1973 German edition)
(Foto Unit’s cover for the 1972 Belgian edition)
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