Monday, March 16, 2015

Oslo, August 31st Review

In the life of a recovering drug addict, every single day marks an important step on the journey to success. Just making it from morning to night with their sobriety still in tact is something to be proud of, an achievement that cannot be understood nor fully appreciated by those who do not struggle. The sun rises in the east and a pair of eyes open, but rather than being filled with the brightness of optimism and normalcy, those eyes shroud a pain and self doubt intended to be hidden from the world. 

The Norwegian film Oslo, August 31st follows a day in the life of a recovering drug addict named Anders, released from a rehab facility to allow him to attend a job interview. This is a film and Anders is fictional, yet I was openly rooting for his success as he met with the editor of a magazine in hopes of reviving his writing career. I don't believe it was because of any attachment to the character itself but rather the understanding that Anders represents something so much more than a single human life. Anders is every person hoping to turn the corner in life after dealing with a mistake filled past, and nothing is easier to root for than a redemption story.

The interview is going well and the editor is clearly impressed by Anders until he specifically asks about a sizable time gap in his work history, a piece of his life in which the only thing that mattered was the addiction that nearly destroyed him. Anders continues to demonstrate a noble level of honesty by owning up to this fact, only it derails his own confidence and leads to him storming out of the interview. We will never know if the editor would have hired him because of the assumption by Anders that it would ruin his chances. This is a pivotal moment, and its clear things aren't heading in the right direction.

When Anders attends a party that night, he encounters a fair amount of familiar faces and their glances and stares are far more telling than words could ever be. Even though he is fighting to stay on a path to recovery, to repair his fractured life, the stigma cannot be washed off so quickly. How horrifying, to feel so exposed in the presence of people you once called friends, to be judged for mistakes of your past rather than being greeted with optimism for a better future. If you look at the screenshot above, what do you see? At first glance it is a nice moment between a man and a woman, but the context of the movie demands you look closer. Anders is literally surrounded by temptation in the form of alcohol and the failure one feels from seeing a former lover who has since moved on with someone else. The placement of everything in this frame is no accident, and its through these subtle messages that director Joachim Trier strongly conveys the difficulty an addict faces trying to find their way through life without relapsing. 

The more we get to know Anders and his plight, the more heartbreaking his story becomes because it all feels so damn real. I wanted to reach through the screen and grab him, tell him it would all be okay. Remind him that there is still hope in the world no matter how hopeless it seems. Assure him that the sun will come up tomorrow and it will look so much brighter and feel so much warmer if he is able to face it sober. 

It's never too late to start over, to embrace a fresh perspective and move forward in life rather than regret what is behind us, but that is easy for me to say. I don't ever feel the urge to drown my sorrows in a powder or a bottle. I don't know what it's like to see the world through the eyes of someone who feels like the world is collapsing in on them and there is no good way to turn. 

I'm lucky, but there are plenty of people in the world who aren't, and I am sure the profound story of Anders would resonate with each and every one of them. Do yourself a favor and find a way to see Oslo, August 31st and appreciate the smart and sympathetic filmmaking on display from beginning to end. It's a really special film.


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