Film Review – Oslo, August 31st
Addiction, depression, and regret fuel 34-year-old Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie) in Oslo, August 31st. He is a drug addict getting out of the treatment center for one day for a job interview in Oslo, his hometown. When following Anders over this day, we know from the start that he is troubled, as the first thing he does is walk out and try to drown himself in a river. The movie never leaves this dark tone, as Anders goes out into Oslo to see what his old friends and family are now doing.
On Anders’s journey, he talks about how hard it is with his addiction and how he isn’t certain what kind of life he can have. Can he start over at 34? Can he ever let go of his past? Anders has moments of seeing that he cannot get back to any point that his life had been. While many friends do start talking with him, there are just as many who cannot take the idea of being close to him again. On some level, Anders can understand this, yet it still hurts him and feeds the idea that his life is doomed. This doesn’t really change for him, and it makes some of what he does throughout the day lack importance, when nothing seems to move him one way or the other. Yet when we move beyond Anders and his problems, things get more interesting.
When Anders does see old friends, also in their thirties, they are, on the surface, successful with family and work. But each has their own innate sadness about where they thought they would be and how they see where they ended up in the world. While what they are going through may not be worse than Anders recovering from drug addiction and the doors it is closing for him, their problems have a resonance that suggest perhaps it isn’t addiction that is the thing making Anders sad, but the lack of success and the loss of youth and the dreams they all had. In comparison with his friends, Anders’s own issues move beyond him and start to become universal.
This theme of trying to keep oneself resonating with youth and the past and trying to make sense of where one is now is explored in many different ways. Anders and an old friend start hooking up with twenty-year-old students and cruising around Oslo. These girls just appear to be acting their ages and having fun. But for Anders and his friend, there is the sadness of trying to recapture something they’ve now lost and can never get back. Then, in a coffee shop, we hear people Anders’s age talking about issues in their relationships, while people younger than him are talking about all the things they want to do and are more relaxed about life and serious issues, even making light of a suicide attempt.
The style employed in creating this mood is a regular occurrence of certain independent and foreign features, using dark, muted coloring and many long takes of Anders just walking and sitting, letting his expression and the gray backdrop define the situation. These techniques, for the most part, are quite effective, and get across many of his feelings in the moment. Most of the time director Joachim Trier keeps a deliberate pace, but there is some lag time where things feel like they should have moved on.
If anything kept me from truly embracing the movie, it was that the ending of Anders’s journey in Oslo isn’t as intense and important as it wants to be. The journey itself has some fascinating ideas about life and regret, and yet the ending feels almost anti-climatic. It may have been the right ending, but it didn’t elevate the message of the film beyond its initial themes.
When going into these movies with such personal themes like loss and regret that define the characters, one most be ready for an emotional push. The big question is: how well does that emotion come across for you? For someone who is reaching Anders’s age or is older, the issues his day in Oslo bring up will be hard not to at least think about. Even if one is younger, loss knows no age, and the worries and regret over lost time and chances resonate beyond Anders’s own issues.
Final Grade: B+
The film is currently available for streaming on Netflix.