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The Ox is a 1991 film from Sweden directed by Sven Nyqvist.

Sweden, winter 1867-68. Life is so bad in a particular province, due to two years of poor harvests, that the people are starving and the province is emptying out as residents emigrate to America. Helge Roos (Stellan Skarsgård) has a young wife, Elfrida, and an infant daughter, Anna, and they're all hungry. One day, in desperation, he kills and slaughters local rich man Svenning Gustafsson's ox.

Helge hides the meat, and his family survives the winter. But he's riven with guilt, and when the local vicar (Max von Sydow) catches him with the hide, Helge is relieved. He is shocked, however, when he goes to court and learns the severity of his punishment.

One of only five films directed by Sven Nyqvist, a world-famous cinematographer best remembered as the cinematographer for many of Ingmar Bergman's movies. Liv Ullmann appears as Maria, Svenning's wife.

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Tropes:

  • And Starring: Liv Ullmann gets an "and Liv Ullmann as Maria" credit at the end of the main cast.
  • Based on a True Story: Supposedly; the film opens with the title "A true story as told by Sven Nyqvist..."
  • Big "NO!": Helge freaks out and screams "NO!" as the cart takes him into prison, for life.
  • Crapsack World: Rural 19th century Sweden, where the people are starving, and you can get a life sentence in prison for killing an ox.
  • Day Hurts Dark-Adjusted Eyes: Helge is wincing when he's brought out into the light after time spent in solitary. It gets better, however, as he's brought to the warden and told he's being paroled.
  • The Good Shepherd: The vicar, doing his best to keep the people together in dark and desperate times. He appears in court with Helge and is just as shocked when Helge gets life in prison. Later he works to get Helge out, getting all the people of the village to sign a petition, finally securing Svenning's signature on the petition to get Helge out of jail after five years.
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  • In the Style of...: Ingmar Bergman movies. It certainly looks like a Bergman movie, and it should, since it was shot by Bergman's cinematographer. It deals with similar themes of misery and despair. And just to make it more like a Bergman film, Liv Ullmann and Max Von Sydow have big parts.
  • Oh, Crap!: Helge is initially relieved when he confesses. But he's pretty shocked when he appears in court and is sentenced to a flogging and life in prison.
  • Single Mom Stripper: Helge is unpleasantly surprised when he comes home and finds that Elfrida has a son along with their daughter Anna. It turns out that at some point, not actually shown in the film, she turned to prostitution to survive.
  • A Taste of the Lash: The savage flogging that Helge receives in prison is just the start of his misery.
  • Verbal Irony: Svenning, pulling a cart of wood with the only ox he has left, complains about whoever stole his other ox. "If I had the bastard here, I'd really give him hell!" This is said to Helge, who, of course, killed the ox.
  • Where Are They Now: A brief epilogue has a narrator tell us that Helge and Elfrida had eight children.

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