22 July 2011. Anders Behring Breivik triggered a car bomb in the government district of Oslo that killed 8 and injured 209. Two hours later he had ferried over to the island of Utoya where a summer cap for the youth division of the Labour Party was held. You likely heard about it on the news, at the very least. Breivik was dressed in a police uniform and armed to the teeth. He opened fire on the group of teenagers and killed 69 more, injuring another 110. The kids were like sitting ducks, and Breivik shot them one by one for the political affiliations of their parents.
The film, by Paul Greengrass, is difficult to watch, especially the beginning, which recreates the attack. Later it focuses on the survivors, and on the court case that would keep Norway rapt. Breivik, who orchestrated the attacks to protest immigration and other stupidly racist, extremist right-wing bullshit, claimed insanity in order to avoid prison. But he also desperately wanted to stay in control of the trial, demanding the prime minister be called as a witness, and insisting that he have the opportunity to address the court to spout more of his hate, and so after “playing a role” for court-appointed psychiatrists, he decided to retract and change his plea.
As you can imagine, with 1 in 4 Norwegians in some way affected by these attacks, the whole country was fraught. The lawyers tasked with defending him were targeted themselves. But the movie’s beating heart is one kid, a survivor shot 5 times, who finds the courage to stand up and face his worst nightmare in court. He doesn’t want to let Breivik see his vulnerability, but feels the weight of all the voices who cannot speak for themselves.
It’s a moving film, of course. I said before that the first part was particularly difficult to watch, but for me, Breivik’s cold, rational, hateful testimony in court performed by Anders Danielsen Lie was even harder. Film has more or less desensitized us to horrific violence, but nothing can prepare you for looking into the eyes of a person we know exists, who really carries this hate in his chest in the cavity where a heart usually resides. That’s the tough part: reconciling ourselves with the fact that this villain has walked among us.
Thankfully, a thoughtful and humble performance by Jonas Strand Gravli balances this out. He is not just the spokesperson for the victims; he’s a stand-in for the horrified audience as well. Director Paul Greengrass has made these sorts of films his niche lately (Captain Phillips, United 93) and it’s a god-awful corner to have painted himself into, but I must admit he’s got it well sorted, but the movie’s attempt at dividing up the story gives it a sense of imbalance. It sputters a bit in the middle when it doesn’t quite know which movie it is. But it’s worth the watch. It’s an act of remembrance.