In the beginning of the movie, after a collection of scenes that seem to be from home movies, shot approximately in the 1980s, and stories about what growing up in Oslo or moving there later meant to people, a young man walks out of an apartment, into the woods, reaches a small lake, fills his pockets with stones, and then walks into the water, carrying a big rock, disappearing under the surface. He re-emerges eventually, but looking back at the scene after the end of Joachim Trier’s film, you wonder if he truly survived.
Not much happens in terms of story. When we meet Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie) again, he’s finished a ten-month stay in a clinic, treated for addiction, and is waiting to start his first day outside. He’ll interview for a job, meet friends to see how their lives have moved on since he left, have a terrible encounter with his sister’s girlfriend, sent as a kind of emotional gate-keeper, and in the conversations he has, the repercussions of his addiction on his friends and family are revealed. He goes to a party and gets drunk for the first time since starting his treatment. He uses money he stole from someone at the party to buy drugs – enough to make the dealer hesitate for a moment (a dealer who congratulates him for being clean, but sells him the drugs he wants nevertheless). He meets other people, friends and strangers, and goes to a rave, or whatever the 2011 version of a rave is. After a nightly visit of the Frogner Park and a dawn swim in a public pool, he walks away, to his parents’ house, currently on sale because they are paying off his debts, and takes an overdose.
Oslo, 31. august doesn’t seem very interested in why Anders is suicidal, instead it provides an intimate portrayal of his final day, without any artificial narrative attempts to reveal his thoughts. I’m still conflicted as to whether he goes into the day knowing that it’s his last or if he makes the choice along the way, after realizing that he won’t be able to start new, because he can’t change who he is and he will never be able to explain the gap in his CV away, regardless of how qualified and articulate he is, how much potential he had before. It takes a while until the viewer realizes that he is working off a list, people he wants to see one last time. The film is almost structured along his frantic attempts to reach an ex-girlfriend in New York, the way he becomes rawer and more honest about his intentions as the day and night progress and she still fails to pick up, possibly because of the way things ended between them.
There is no “Why”. What the film provides so incredibly, so unexpectedly, is a character who seems to be utterly unable to see a future for himself. As he walks the streets of Oslo, sits in cafés, meets his friends, he observes other people’s lives – closely, those of his friends who have moved on without him, precariously but undeniably made a stake in their future by having kids (it’s almost like a mirror of his own life, the friend who survived the drugs and the parties, who has a conventional job and two kids and complains of back pains and marital difficulties), from a distance, those of strangers who he sees and imagines following, who reveal their problems and wishes for the future in fragments of conversations he overhears. His friend argues he has a responsibility not to try and take his life again, his sister’s girlfriend reveals to him what a terrible burden he is on his family (not that he doesn’t know, but if he is still looking for something to grasp at the last moment, every single encounter he has just frustrates him more).
Before he goes to the house he grew up in, where all the memories he has are stored in boxes, ready to be moved, he observes the people he’s just met skinny dipping in the pool, giddy because of the great endless night and party and their daring little adventure, but he doesn’t go into the water. There’s a moment when his face quickly changes from a smile to profound and hopeless sadness, where his inability to picture himself amongst them becomes utterly clear. He dropped out years ago, and the world moved on without him, leaving him unable to carve out a place for himself – and all he has left is the quiet solitude of the familiar house, the sound of the piano he learned to play on, that last breath, before he sinks.
2011, directed by Joachim Trier, starring Anders Danielsen Lie, Hans Olav Brenner, Ingrid Olava, Andreas Braaten.
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