This film is made up of 55 shots, most of which represent a discrete narrative element. Connections do occur, the most evident of which is the dream recounted by the man in the first scene, which connects to the final five shots of the film.
But there are stories, here, too--if the axiom that "character is story" holds true. There is Mia, who considers the withholding of alcohol a form a sadism, and who complains that nobody understands her; she recurs in four vignettes. Similarly, the film checks in occasionally with Anna, a groupie of a musician for "The Black Devils"; she extrapolates a single instance of kindness from the musician into an agony of unrequited love. There are other characters, in agonies of their own.
A psychiatrist addresses the camera: "People demand...to be happy, at the same time they are egocentric, selfish and ungenerous. They are quite simply mean, most of them." Vignette after vignette, that is what we see, the meanness of people. That is what unifies these diverse pieces of film. Whatever kindness we see is superficial.
But there is one other thing: there is the occasional sing-along. That is ordinary life, the film says. A stream of human meanness interrupted from time-to-time by a bit of music. All of this moves with dark humor toward a man-made apocalypse.
In Ancient Greece, Lethe was one of the rivers of Hades, the river of forgetfulness. YOU, THE LIVING opens with a quote from Goethe: "Be pleased then, you living one, in your delightfully warmed bed, before Lethe's ice-cold wave will lick your escaping foot." It puts us on notice that the dreariness we are about to witness is all there is: "be pleased". Maybe, as the psychiatrist suggests, we should just stop whining, try to be a little kinder, join in the sing-alongs and enjoy the simple things.
YOU, THE LIVING and Andersson's earlier SONGS FROM THE SECOND FLOOR coalesce styles of filmmaking suggested by earlier directors, but is a thing all its own. It deserves viewing, it deserves study. It deserves imitation.