split between film and reality: 22 july. review.
It happened when I was on holiday with my parents, this nearly a depressing tradition, taking place in July. Chechen War, death of Leszek Kołakowski, death of Amy Winehouse, Utøya. I was too young to comprehend everything, but I remember flashbacks. Bomb in Oslo, shots on Utøya, Breivik being diagnosed with mental illness, Breivik sentenced, Breivik complaining about poor living conditions in the prison. 22 July is showing those points on a timeline on which we all live, however it is a story in a film. No matter how many things actually happened, it is not a reconstruction of the past.
BREIVIK - AN ORDINARY NORWEGIAN FACE
I wasn’t immersed in those events. I wasn’t even sure where Norway is located on the map. Probably, there are thousands of memoirs of people closely bind with Oslo and Utøya attacks. I have never researched this subject, so I would like to start with a quote from currently the most famous Norwegian, who wrote about everything. Between his life and his thoughts about Hitler, he recalled the feelings from when he heard about Utøya.
This summer I have experienced something different for the first time. Paradoxically, when it happened, I was alone, however I felt being a part of “us”, and this feeling, such a good one, engulfed me with such a strength that it made me cry. Of course I didn’t cry just because of that. I am writing now about the massacre on the Utøya island, where a Norwegian, just a bit younger than me, was walking in the forest and shooting the encountered children and teenagers, killing this way sixty-nine people. I was crying, and I wouldn’t have if sixty-nine young people died in a bomb explosion in Bagdad or in an accident in São Paulo, but I felt that it happened at our place, at home, and I have never felt before that I had “at home”. I was crying when I was watching what was happening. I called mum, I called Linda, I called Geir who was at that time in Norway. All that what was happening there, overtook all my thoughts and feelings, there was no room for anything else. Sometimes, in its full strength, the consciousness of consequences of those events was reaching me, in order to disappear again after a while. It was surrounded by darkness. The darkness of mourning, but also the darkness of crime and the darkness of death. But on the pictures from Utøya there was light, I knew this light, it was a light of the Norwegian landscape in a rainy day in July. All pictures from there were showing familiar scenes. Dark green pines going down to the very border of the lake, off-white rocks and water surrounding them, heavy and still, also grey. Among this well-known landscape there were bodies covered with a plastic foil. On the mainland the survivors were filmed. Some lay on the ground, being taken care of in this position, some were getting in the buses, some were walking down the road, tucked in blankets. Few people stood, holding themselves. Someone shouted, someone cried. It was an ordinary Norwegian youth. Ambulances were ordinary ambulances. Police cars were ordinary police cars. And when photos of the person walking around the island and shooting people were published it turned out that it was an ordinary Norwegian face with ordinary Norwegian name as well. It was a national tragedy. Also mine. I wanted to be there, I felt a strong need, because nation, Norwegian nation was gathering on massive silent manifestos, hundreds of thousands of people were standing on the streets with roses in their hands.
This is the only reference in this text to the actual events. I found reviews and comments, criticizing the film from the angle of the facts, the reality. But the reality is different for everyone. Knausgård described how he felt and no one can argue with that. We can agree that Breivik killed 8 people in the bomb attack in Oslo and shot 69 youngsters on Utøya. We can agree that he faced a trial and was sentenced. We can even agree what kind of weapons he used and how he got from Oslo to Utøya. But we will never know how the killing really looked like. No one can recreate the past. Even for the survivors it all looked differently, the details and the bigger picture. This is why, even if Greengrass misrepresented some parts what we can prove, dialogues, gestures etc., I am not going to point it out. Here I split, and I want you to do the same, leave informations and images from the media and separate them from the film.
Greengrass is showing the story from two perspectives: the victims/survivors and the perpetrator. The director started off with the bucolic tale of the Norwegian Workers’ Youth League, gathering on Utøya like every other year. We see the reunion of friends, singing by the fire, looking discreetly at each other, nurturing the crushes. The focus is set on two brothers, Viljar (Jonas Strand Gravli) and Torje Hanssen (Isak Bakli Aglen). The happy scenery is disrupted with Anders Beivik (Anders Danielsen Lie) and his preparations. He is alienated, acts with precision, in overwhelming silence. Once or twice we see also the Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (Ola G. Furuseth), getting ready to visit Utøya. Boys and Breivik’s paths cross on the island. However the story is based on mass murder, we don’t see that much of violence or blood. The scene on Utøya is not just simply full of tension because we see a killer and his victims, getting shot or trying to hide from him. I was speechless as I kept thinking that I saw a hunt after sixty-nine innocent people which happened in real life not that long time ago.
Viljar and Torje were among the survivors. The former was badly injured, found by policemen and taken to the hospital. We follow him to see his reunion with the family, homecoming, fight with his new disabilities, both physical and mental. Simultaneously Breivik was arrested, demanded a lawyer and faced a trail. Viljar and Breivik’s paths crossed one more time in court, when Hanssen gave a statement of what the perpetrator did.
For a while now I haven’t seen a film that would engage me and keep the tension throughout most of the time. The events themselves, the attacks and the trial make it impossible to look away, but I give the director the credit. He didn’t do anything spectacular, but simply a decent job, with beautiful pictures, without overusing the schemes and avoiding falling into clichés. Obviously we needed some moments to laugh, to cry, to be angry or frightened, but I don’t feel that Greengrass crossed any line. From the technical side I took two notes. One, most of the actors resembled psychically the actual people to unbelievable extent. Two, I hate the idea of taking Norwegian actors and making them speak English. It’s not like their English was bad – it’s simply irritating and caricatural sometimes, when in the background we hear Norwegian. Much of the pressure was put on Jonas Strand Gravli, playing Torje Hanssen, and this 27-year-old actor stood up to his job. However, I really enjoyed Jon Øigarden, because I find Geir Lippestad to be the most interesting character both in real life and the film. Lippestad is a criminal appellate lawyer and became widely known in 2001 when he acted as a defence counsel following the murder of Benjamin Hermansen. He is a member of the Labour Party, but here comes the astonishing aspect of the picture and Norwegian judicial system: no matter how much the lawyer like Lippestad loathed Breivik, he still represented him and secured his rights.
People hate Breivik. People said that he needs to die for what he’s done. If he cannot be killed, let’s make him suffer for the rest of his life. If we cannot make him suffer, let’s isolate him. He should be deprived of the mod cons of nowadays world. When the police took him, no one harmed him. No one shouted at him or insulted him. He had a right to defence and his defence counsel followed every procedure there was to follow. It didn’t matter how much Lippestad loathed him, this is just how Norway works. Everyone deserves a right to defence. Taking into account the unimaginable things that Breivik did it might seem ridiculous when he requested a medical assistance at the police station because “he hurt himself in a finger while he was shooting people on Utøya”. And no one said anything just called the medic. It was impossible to comprehend for most of the people how anyone could kill due to ideological disparities. I think that’s the main reason behind the diagnosis, stating his medical illness. People in Norway don’t commit mass murders because of politics.
People love Breivik. His mother said: He is kind of right. They way the country’s goings. Many supported, even if not his actions, then his beliefs at least. And Breivik also loves himself. I committed the most spectacular political assassination since World War II. They fear me. Every psychiatrist in the world envies you now, cause I am a monster and you can look into my mind. It’s obvious that he prepared the crime for years. He was fixated on that and prepared to go to prison for the rest of his life. He wanted to be remembered, he wanted to be feared. I feel that it’s easier and more likeable to judge his actions and see him through the perspective of a mass murderer. Therefore I appreciated that Greengrass didn’t go the easy way and presented him as a crazy anti-immigrant hater. He wasn’t schizophrenic, he suffers from grandiose delusions, very dangerous type. This is one of the strengths of the film and if we are not fixated on finding aberration, we receive a good piece of cinema.