Frances’ life is a mess. She just broke up with her boyfriend; her sister is getting married; her parents are getting divorced; meanwhile, her career as a painter hangs in the balance as critics rip her art to shreds with harsh words.
So, when an opportunity for an apprenticeship with a prominent artist in Norway presents itself, Frances jumps right onboard.
Norway is beautiful, and Frances is far enough north that the sun never actually sets. It’s great that she can paint for hours on end with the continuous lighting; but it also means her boss, Nils, can make her work for hours on end, too.
And Frances hates the work—Nils even warns her that it will be excruciating. She compares his art style to a “paint by number” project versus her own finger-painting style.
But she pours herself into the job anyway, because it’s not about using the art to escape life but rather focusing on the art to give herself a new perspective on life.
Nils isn’t a bad guy. Not really. He just isn’t used to being around people—let alone teaching someone how to be a better artist. So, while some of his behavior comes off a bit gruff, it becomes pretty clear that he’s just very passionate about his work and likes things done correctly.
A woman comforts a man after his father’s death. The man describes his father as someone who was “made of peace.” Elsewhere, Frances realizes that things are rarely so fragile that one person’s actions can ruin everything, as she’s sometimes felt in her life.
A man going through a separation states that the only thing that made him less scared of misery was his wife, and he apologizes for his mistakes. (Though it is unclear whether she reconciles with him, she does lean her head on his shoulder at their daughter’s wedding, perhaps indicating a softening toward her husband.)
A Hebrew prayer is sung at a funeral service. Throughout the film, we hear references to gods, heaven and praying. A man compares his barn to a cathedral. Someone says a woman looks like a Renaissance angel. Frances says it’s “magical” that the sun never sets in Norway. A museum has a “mystical tree of life” in its lobby.
Frances and Yasha (a man visiting Norway for his father’s funeral) kiss, remove their clothing and have sex. (In the mass of skin, we see her breasts.) We see a woman fully naked on several occasions as she poses for a painting. A woman skinny dips, and there’s more breast and rear nudity. There is a closeup shot of Frances’ backside when her mom helps her to remove a leach that is making its way into her underwear.
A couple kisses at a wedding. Some women wear dresses with cleavage. Frances is seen in her underwear several times. A woman in a bikini swims with her shirtless boyfriend and later rinses off with him in an outdoor shower (still in their swimsuits). A woman changes clothes with her back to a man, and we see part of her bra.
A woman comments on her daughter’s “tush.” She also encourages her daughter to have casual sex.
When Nils grabs Frances’ wrist roughly to show her the proper technique for painting, she yanks it away and tells him to never touch her again.
Frances watches a video of a Viking battle reenactment in a museum. People are stabbed with swords, shot with arrows and even hit with axes (all involving fake bloodshed). People also spar with swords outside the museum. A man stands on a bridge and seems to contemplate jumping off, but he walks away instead. A man guts and beheads a fish, preparing it for a meal. Several dead fish hang from the ceiling of a walk-in freezer, which is being used to store a body in a coffin until a funeral.
We hear the f-word 10 times. God’s name is abused three times, and we also hear the term “schmuck” once. The apprentice who worked for Nils before Frances wrote “Welcome to h—” on a cabinet in her trailer.
Nils drinks beer throughout the movie. (He also polishes a can off just before driving.) People drink wine and champagne on two occasions. A couple sips from a bottle of whiskey. A man does shots with his father in a flashback. Frances comments on Nils’ drinking habits.
When Frances’ parents announce their divorce, she and her sister are shocked, and her sister wonders if love lasts. Their dad yells a lot in the movie and states that their mom is driving him crazy. At one point, he refuses to go to his daughter’s wedding, since he doesn’t like her fiancé. However, he does wind up going, giving a rude speech during the reception about how miserable she will be.
At his father’s funeral, Yasha says that losing his father was like losing his own life. He tells Frances that his dad raised him alone, always hoping that his wife would come back to them. He then tells his mother that his dad was his only real family.
Some art critics are harsh towards Frances, calling her work “lazy” and “cold.” A woman sniffs urine not realizing what it is until afterward. Someone pours milk, and curds come out.
The Sunlit Night is one of those movies that is artistically beautiful with strong acting and a storyline that allows audiences to interpret the story’s deeper lessons in different ways. Unfortunately, this is one of those movies that could have portrayed its meaningful message without all the gratuitous content.
We didn’t need to see naked bodies or hear harsh language to appreciate Frances’ story. She goes on a journey to find her muse. And she succeeds not because she has this great epiphany moment or because she accomplishes her goals, but rather because she works hard to help other people achieve their own goals.
Again, different audiences will probably interpret this film in different ways. But they’ll all have to deal with lots of unprovoked vulgarity.
Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.