Last night I watched this tense, sad Norwegian movie at the West End Cinema. It follows a drug addict in very shaky recovery who has a one-day leave from his rehab center. He tries to reconnect with old friends and with his family, he goes to a job interview, and tries to pick up a girl.
The whole movie takes place in the endlessly prolonged not-now of addiction, the permanent gasp: like that Anne Carson line, “holding Yes and No together in one hand.” That may be frustrating for viewers. Anders projects his own self-hatred onto others, rejecting them because he assumes that he’s already messed up so badly that they will reject him; he doesn’t give anyone a chance, and through his own despair and lack of imagination he deeply hurts the people who care about him. I found his motivations totally understandable and relatable but others might focus more on the motivations of the people who awkwardly try to figure out how to be good to him; the movie lets your sympathies fall where they will and doesn’t, I think, judge you for empathizing with one character more deeply than with another.
There are a lot of good points in this movie, a lot of unexpected insights, even if they don’t necessarily add up to a fully coherent story or arc. Anders Danielsen Lie, as the main character, does this thing where he can hold his face completely blank and still while his voice gets very broken-glass: It conveys both his emotions and his disconnection from them. (There’s a heartbreaking scene toward the end where you finally see him smiling from joy, rather than miserably and out of duty.)
The movie is also a deeply ambivalent love letter to Oslo itself. Lots of emphasis on memories and the vanished places of the past (Anders’s parents are having to sell their house to pay for his treatment or debts). This emphasis obviously adds a “wherever you go, there you are” element, and gives a sense of the beauty of the city Anders can only see as the site of his self-destruction. I also thought the use of music was really smart–I was reminded very strongly of the way that the ecstasy of substance abuse can feel like living in music, being swept away from oneself by it.
Children appear: They start, by necessity, lives which have become stopped clocks. There’s ambivalence and unhappiness in parenting in this movie, but at least parenting does force some changes. Oslo is also a really intense portrayal of someone who feels very acutely that he’s being looked at, assessed and interpreted: Anders’s entire life feels like a job interview where the last line on his resume says, “Drug addict.”
A tough movie, intentionally unsatisfying. It only covers one day but that day feels endless; which is part of the point.