Lilya 4-Ever Review

Posted: 2005

I have the honour to publish this paper by Jeff Carl who wrote it for a college course. Thank you, Jeff! Keep up the good work!

Social problems are ubiquitous contributors to the private suffering of individuals. Social problems shape the current conditions and the future direction of families and nations. Unfortunately, problems such as human trafficking, slavery, and sex abuse still proliferate in the 21st Century. Short of genocide and homicide, these crimes are the most abhorrent illustrations of human cruelty; they attack the very core of personhood and destroy the essence of human dignity.

Lilja 4-Ever is a 2002 film that examines such problems. The movie garnered five of Sweden's highest film awards and has been highly acclaimed in many countries (1). In America, it was nominated for a Human Rights Award by the Political Film Society and nominated Best Foreign Film in the Independent Spirit Awards (1). The Swedish movie details the story of a young Russian girl sold into sexual slavery in Sweden, based on the real life of a Russian girl named Dangoule Rasalaite (2). Lilya 4-Ever is an unflinching look at the horrific circumstances we can find ourselves in "when the social order becomes disorganized" or when people do not adhere to ethical standards (3).

The title character, Lilya, lives in an unnamed city of the former Soviet Republic. Filmed in Estonia, poverty and despair are elements of the setting as much as the ramshackle tenement buildings and the gray, indifferent sky. The San Francisco Chronicle, in its review of the film, explains that "cruelty invades every aspect of (this) place hardened first by the Soviet regime and then by the economic ruin of its collapse" (3). Lilya finds herself abandoned by her mother, living in a hovel with no electricity. She offers a simple evaluation of her circumstances: "It's so cold. And this world isn't very good" (4).

11 year old Volodya was Lilya's only friend Lilya's age is unknown but she is likely 13 to 16. Her only true friend, 10 to 13-year-old Volodya, was kicked out of his abusive father's home and sleeps in an abandoned military base where both characters' parents used to work. Despite this bleak environment, the young characters' determination and compassion remind us that the human spirit can endure almost anything. The viewer hopes against the odds that Lilya and Volodya will survive the social problems and somehow rise beyond them. We see goodness and life in the heart of the two characters and anticipate their heroic ascension out of misery. Lilya and Volodya encourage each other and support each other with the limited resources they can find. Lilya prays to a painting of a guardian angel for salvation from her desperate situation.

The viewer is disheartened to realize that peace, fulfillment, and freedom are reserved for scenes of a fantasy world that Lilya imagines as heaven. Lilya is proud to have the same birthday as Britney Spears, but finds prostitution the only way to earn money for food. Volodya aspires to become a basketball player like Michael Jordan, but can only throw a crushed tin can through a rusted basketball hoop in a vacant lot. Lilya buys Volodya a basketball, but his father punctures it in a fit of rage. Volodya selflessly shares his only valuable possession: glue with toxic fumes that the teens sniff to obtain a high.

These tragic ironies oblige us to consider the degree to which social conditions influence our opportunities and, perhaps, determine our fates. Henry Brownstein explains, "Wealth, health, and safety are not equally distributed" across the globe, but they certainly affect "how well (we) can live among other people or even whether (we) can live at all" (7).

Finally, a handsome and respectable suitor named Andrei offers to bring Lilya to Sweden to "make more money there in a week than a doctor here makes in a month" (4). The viewer knows that Lilya has either found the answer to her prayers or fallen into a sinister and deadly trap. [I snipped a few sentences here so as not to give too much of the story away - Peter]

Despite the first sequence of the movie that predicts Lilya's demise, we hold out hope until the very end that she somehow finds a way out of the gruesome enslavement that consumes more people than we are aware. The New York Times decries that "Lilya's story is a variation on countless true stories that have come out of Eastern Europe since the fall of Communism" (5). The film's director, Lukas Moodysson, "showed it to some prostitutes in Moldova, and they said it should have been (even) more grim and more violent" to truly portray the tragedies of their lives (9). If this thought is not sufficient to propel us into action, we must also remember that Lilya "could be any throwaway teenager living anywhere in the world" (5).

The sociological perspective helps us understand the roots of social problems and implement possible solutions. We need to identify and address the causes of social problems so that we can minimize their influence and prevent their recurrence. More immediately, we need to be willing and able to help those currently suffering. There are many whom, "try as they might, lack the resources to live a safe and healthy life without (our) support" (7). As citizens of a free and prosperous country, we must each find a way to "support those who have less resources (and) opportunity" (7). is a website created by Peter, who was inspired to action while viewing Lilya 4-Ever. "It broke my heart to realize that millions of (people) like Lilya are suffering terrible injustices right now in all parts of the world. I felt I had to do something" (8). The website offers the author's evaluation of several social problems, and provides links to articles for further study. Peter also makes it easy for site visitors to become part of the solution. The site provides online petition forms and instructions on how to voice concerns to government offices. Also included are links to organizations and movements that address specific social problems.

Director Lukas Moodysson declares, "I don't want people just to be sad and depressed. Most people get angry. That's really the reaction I wanted. I would like people to leave the cinema angry and let that anger lead to some kind of action" (9). Lilya 4-Ever made Moodysson "the most hated man in Sweden" according to a UK news article (9). Nevertheless, the film has inspired direct action and been utilized as an awareness tool by governments and associations worldwide. Campaigns in Eastern Europe have exhibited Lilya 4-Ever to over 60,000 people in an effort to promote an end to human trafficking (6). Russian officials watched the movie before voting whether to legalize prostitution in Moscow (10). The U.S. Department of State held a screening of the movie prior to a forum on "the horrors of trafficking in persons" (10). As the chairman of the forum asserted, Lilya 4-Ever is "one powerful movie delivering a very powerful message" (11). The U.S. Department of State "is looking into getting (a) licensing agreement" so the "movie could be shown in all (American) embassies" (9).

  1. IMDB Awards
  2. IMDB Trivia
  4. "Lilya 4-Ever"
  5. New York Times
  6. Wikipedia
  7. "The Problems of Living in Society"
  9. The Guardian
  10. US State Gov 22337
  11. US State Gov 22334
  12. Also consulted but not quoted: Metacritic

Article written by Jeff Carl

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