A disaster of some type has occurred, of which the audience only knows that uncontaminated water is scarce and livestock has to be burned. Fleeing the city, the Laurent family arrive at their country home, hoping to find refuge and security, only to discover that it is already occupied by strangers.The family is assaulted by the strangers and forced to leave with no supplies or transport. As they seek help from people they have known in the village the scale of the situation is realized when they are repeatedly turned away. The family makes their way to a train station where they wait with other survivors in the hope that a train will stop for them and take them to a safe place.
The film takes its title from Völuspá, an ancient Norse poem which describes the time before the Ragnarök, the end of the world.
This film provides examples of:
- Cover Innocent Eyes and Ears: The daughter wakes up and hides her brother's face to prevent him from hearing/watching the rape scene across the room.
- Hobbes Was Right: Haneke partially declares that without rules to govern them, people begin to behave like wolves, with an amoral vagabond boy the character who is perhaps most fitting of the movie's title. That said, Haneke spends as much time showing us how faith still manifests itself as he does dissolving humanity.
- Leave the Camera Running: The funeral scene drags on long after everyone has left the grave site. Also the closing scene which consists of 2 min of random footage of a train ride.
- MacGuffin: The train.
- No Ending: We never learn what happens to the survivors at the train station.
- Reality Has No Soundtrack: The film has no score.
- Reality Has No Subtitles: The Romanian family's talk is not subtitled.
- Post-Apocalyptic Dog: The dogs we never see on screen pose quite a threat to the surviving humans. At one point the family discovers mangled corpses of sheep, which possibly fell victim to stray dogs. We later learn that the young boy tried to make friends with one of the dogs but it bit him in the hand so he killed it.
- Safe Zone Hope Spot: The train symbolizes hope. The hope that the people are holding on to that someone will eventually come and they'll be rescued.
- Scavenger World: After the infrastructure has collapsed, people try to make the best use of what's left.
- Stress Vomit: Anne vomits after her husband gets shot in the beginning.
- Unspecified Apocalypse: Humanity is in dire straits although it's never fully explained why. The audience only knows that the infrastructure has collapsed, uncontaminated water is scarce and livestock have to be burned. A nuclear disaster is likely.