Bille August’s 1983 film Zappa calls attention to the habits people develop based on their environment.  August juxtaposes the wholesome family environment of Bjorn’s world to that of the dysfunctional worlds of Mulle and Sten.  While Bjorn is of a lower-class than Sten, his home life promotes a positive family values and moral responsibility.  Likewise, Mulle’s father tries to instill good moral values into his son, but Mulle and his family are destined to remain in the labor force.  Unlike Bjorn, Mulle is unable to climb the social ladder.  Sten, however, comes from the upper class, but his family is morally corrupt and does not emotionally or physically support Sten.  Like the character of Ingemar in My Life as a Dog, Sten is in the way and is a nuisance to both of his parents.  In his rejected state, Sten rejects his role as a child and morph into a mixture of his environment.  Sten emulates his perception of his father and the only thing that depends on him, Zappa, his fish.

In examining the psychological state of Sten’s being we must look at both his environment and relationship to Zappa.  In Sten’s personal space, his bedroom, the audience is cued to notice the adult features: the room has wood paneling half way up the walls, there are animal skins on the walls as art, the space is dominated by a huge desk in the center, and it is dull except from a single desk lamp and the vibrant glow of Zappa’s tank.  When in his space, Sten and company drink ‘neat martinis.’ The aura the location projects is that of an adult male’s study, similar to the study of Don Corleone in The Godfather and one the audience could imagine as Sten’s father’s study. When in his space, Sten is as powerful as his father. He too can act on his desires without regard for others.  He too can command and control the weak.  And then there is Zappa.  Zappa needs live bait to eat.  He feeds on the weak, similar to Sten’s father.

The combination of how important one’s pet and father is during adolescence is witnessed in the characters of Mulle and Sten.  The difference in these two boys is the nature of both their father and pet.  Gogge and Mulle’s father are gentile and simple.  Zappa and Sten’s father feed on the weak for their own benefit.  The audience can view the children as products of their environment based on their actions.  Mulle know stealing is wrong, but believes that if he can get in with the upper class he might be able to elevate his own social status.  Sten sees that it is natural for the strong to violate the weak to his or her own gain and does so by controlling Mulle and Bjorn.  Bjorn, however, rejects both paths by taking back his freedom.  He fights against his captor, refusing to compromise his values any further.

At the moment when Sten kills Gogge, Mulle loses his ability to fight against his captor.  Mulle becomes cemented in his social role, which is expressed in the scene with Mulle and his father at the factory.  It is with the same action that Bjorn is able to fight against his captor and take back his freedom.  Bjorn knows that emotional connection Sten feels towards Zappa is Sten’s weakness, like Gogge was to Mulle.  By violently stepping on Zappa, Bjorn breaks free from his oppressor and is liberated to reclaim his higher moral value.  Each character is a product of their environment, but August reminds audiences that by taking back the power we too can reclaim our freedom.

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