Nikolaj Coster-Waldau didn’t get as much credit as some of the other main stars of “Game of Thrones,” but his work as the despicable then heroic then despicable Jaime Lannister was a marvel of versatile acting throughout the run of the series. He’s leading-man handsome, but character-actor good.
In the unsettling, beautifully photographed and existential psychological thriller “Exit Plan” from Denmark, Coster-Waldau trades his armor for the striped pajamas of a guest at a mysterious hotel in which you can check in any time you like, but you can never leave.
Welcome to the Hotel Aurora.
In a 85-minute film that plays like an episode of “Black Mirror,” Coster-Waldau delivers a quietly powerful and heartbreaking performance as the sweet-natured and exceedingly polite Max, an insurance claims investigator looking into the mysterious disappearance of a middle-aged man who seemingly vanished from the face of the Earth six months ago. (The man’s wife cannot receive a settlement until there’s definitive proof of his death.) Max’s investigation coincides and connects with his own tragedy: a tumor in his brain so large it can’t be surgically removed. Max has only a short while to live — and even a shorter period of time during which he’ll be physically and mentally himself.
“A tumor this size might change you,” says his physician in a massive understatement.
Tuva Novotny turns in fine work as Max’s loving and loyal wife Laarke, who is putting up a brave front and doing her best to support Max but is beginning to falter under the pressure. Late one night, Max hears her on the phone, telling someone, “I don’t know how long I can cope with this.” That’s when he makes the decision to travel to the Hotel Aurora, a fortress-like facility tucked away deep in the mountains, where anyone wishing to end their life for any reason can choose the method of assisted suicide and leave the world on their own terms.
“Aurora … a Beautiful Ending,” say the advertising materials. You can die via “a painless injection,” or how about a nice “psychedelic inhalation”? When Max checks in, he’s given the striped pajama uniform that looks like something a POW would be wearing, and he’s matched with a “Parting Counselor” who will help him prepare for his final day. As Max socializes with some of his fellow guests, indulges in a poppy tea opium trip and remembers moments of bliss and turbulence with his beloved Laarke, we notice the Hotel Aurora has a chilling and ominous quality. What’s with all the heavily armed guards? And why are certain areas strictly off-limits to guests? What’s going on behind those locked doors? And why did someone etch a message into a mirror saying, “You Will Get Out”?
This is a starkly beautiful film, filled with breathtaking exteriors and byzantine interiors reflecting Max’s desire to fly free from his pain and his illness — and his increasing fears about the true nature of what is transpiring at the Hotel Aurora. With echoes of such sci-fi classics as “Soylent Green” and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” with a twist of “The Twilight Zone,” this is a film that provides more questions than answers but leaves plenty of food for thought.