Reykjavík International Film Festival: Borg vs. McEnroe

The tennis legend "Ice Borg" is being played by Sverrir Páll Guðnason

The closing film of the Reykjavík International Film Festival (RIFF) is the tennis epic, Borg vs. McEnroe. It follows the story of the 1980 Wimbledon Championship–capturing the rivalry between the young, American (20) John McEnroe and the swedish and then current world champion (24) Björn Borg. McEnroe is played by Shia LaBeouf and Borg is played by Sverrir Páll Guðnason, the swedish born actor who grew up in Reykjavík.

Sverrir first grew in popularity for his role “Pontus” in the swedish crime/thriller series, Wallander.

For those who grew up in Sweden during the showdown of these two tennis greats, the conflict was about what it meant to be man–contrasting the antics of McEnroe to the thick mask of coolness shown by Borg, nicknamed “Ice Borg.”

Borg was not always as calm, cool and collected. In earlier years he had gotten in trouble for his temper, with a brief suspension. The screenwriter, Ronnie Sandahl, wants the film to ask the question, “What happens to a man who bottles up all his rage?”

When writing about Borg in 1982, Michael Mewshaw said Borg had “struck a Faustian bargain at some point in his young life and agreed to transform into an automaton in return for being made into the best tennis player in the world.”

His rival McEnroe agreed when he remarked, “It’s not humanly possible to be Borg.”

With tongue-in-cheek, Star Trek: The Next Generation co-opted the Swede’s name for a race of remorseless, unyielding half-humanoid/half-machines.

The film can also been seen more broadly, as a commentary on the division between your public and private self. The Swedish author, Stephan Mendel-Enk, sees a lot of the hatred and vitriol in today’s world as the result of what happens when the living room becomes public–thanks to the internet. Perhaps the lesson from “Ice Borg” is to the benefits of mastering yourself.

Borg vs McEnroe is screened at 18:00 in cinema 1 at Háskólibíó.

Click here for an updated schedule of the festival.