The abuse of drugs and/or alcohol can turn a life that was once full of promise into an existence of wasted potential that may leave you forgotten by many. In spite of what some choose to believe, kicking the habit isn’t as simple as stopping. Once this unforgiving world of addiction traps its prey into its unrelenting embrace, escaping from this ordeal looks to be futile from time to time and absurdly challenging in nearly every other instance for whoever attempts to escape its quicksand like grasp. As seen in Oslo, August 31st, even if you’ve been sober for a while, the battle with your inner demons may still live on.
Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie) is one of those people who’s been having a difficult time changing his life for the better. The thirty-four year old has been caught up in this drug induced emotional battlefield of the mind for a long period of time and has spent his recent days in rehab with the hopes of overcoming his addictions. Although he’s trying, the truth is, he doesn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. He’s clearly depressed and always sees the negative aspects of his current burdensome predicament that he’s faced with.
For today, Anders gets to take a leave from the half way house that he’s been staying in order to interview for a job. He’s out for a whole day for the first time, and he’s off to see some family and a few close friends while he’s out. This is a big step for him in his recovery and it shows that there may be some improvement in the eyes of the people who oversee him on a daily basis. It’s an opportunity to see where he is in his rehab and how far he can go on his own. If he’s successful, he gains more trust from the people currently managing his life and it may even show him that he needs more confidence in his efforts to get clean.
While he may not be the most positive of people when it comes to his issues, at the other end of the spectrum, he has at least a few people who see the qualities that he ignores and they clearly hope he sees some of what they see so he can improve for the better. This predicament really is difficult for both sides, but in different ways. He knows and feels that his circumstances may to too tough to overcome, but his true supporters aren’t able to understand his extreme level of self-doubt.
With the support of others or not, this day becomes the ultimate test for him as he goes back to his old stomping grounds of Olso. It’s there where he gets reacquainted with former friends and enemies who have the ability to create tempting situations that are difficult for him to ignore, and he’ll also meet some new faces that have the potential to create a safe haven for him to be away from all of the negative things that have been corrupting his life for the past several years.
It is here that writer/director Joachim Trier’s Oslo, August 31st makes its name and expresses the core of its story. On the outside Oslo is seen as a small, quiet Norwegian town to most, but through the weary eyes and bleak mind of Anders, it represents a lifestyle that greets warmth with the harshness of a cold and unmerciful degree of apathy. As a viewer of the film, you won’t see or sense this primarily from the character stuck in the middle of this fight with addiction. For the most part, this will be illustrated by the tale that’s being told itself.
Oslo, August 31st isn’t what I would consider to be a character study. When dissecting the film in its entirety, I’d venture to say that it strictly studies addictions on a wide scale by using the day’s events as a point of convergence for the lead character and all of the people who are passing by. Some of these people are shown to be familiar faces, but many others are just ordinary civilians living life on a day-to-day basis.
The presentation of the movie is directly connected to the approach that’s being used. While Anders is prominently shown as the central character in the middle of Oslo, August 31st, the point of view is from more of a “detached observer” perspective. Because of how this is done, I get the impression that Trier doesn’t have any interest in having the viewers of his film judge the main player. In essence, he’s not to be seen as good or bad. He’s asking us to see things for what they are as far as the struggles with addiction are concerned, not to feel sympathy for the addict.
This is a very intelligent style that allows the viewer to get a grasp of the situation at hand in order to allow them to comprehend all of what they see with the proper diagnosis. The constant conversations, the unstable mentality of Anders and the world that’s continuously living and breathing around him makes it nearly impossible not to get an idea of what is unfolding right before your eyes. When watching Oslo, August 31st, we’re allowed to experience it all from a plethora of viewpoints while being observant from our very own perspective.
Out of all of the films that I’ve watched in my life, I can’t recall ever seeing anything handled in such a way. Maybe I have, but I just can’t recall them specifically. Because it’s executed in such an unusual style, Oslo, August 31st creates a very human texture with a vast sense of normalcy that most can understand regardless of your experience (or lack of experience) with drugs, alcohol or any other potentially addictive substance.
Watching movies are usually for entertainment purposes, but they can also be for educational reasons as well. In that case, projects like this one are a welcome addition to the world of film and I hope to see more of them being distributed for years to come. Will they come from American filmmakers? That’s yet to be seen. If this type (or any type) of risk taking in film ever crosses over to the States to a similar degree, hopefully it can gain some level of mainstream appeal.
Director: Joachim Trier
Anders Danielsen Lie
Hans Olav Brenner
Tone B. Mostraum
Johanne Kjellevik Ledang
Film Length: 95 minutes
August 31, 2011 (Norway)
May 25, 2012 (Limited)