Oslo, August 31st

Oslo, August 31st ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Anhedonia. The Wikipedia entry for this word says:

a diverse array of deficits in hedonic function, including reduced motivation or ability to experience pleasure.

At one point or another, we have all experienced some version of this phenomenon - may be characterized by an oversaturation of love, or caused by a prolonged mediocrity in life, or as in the case of our protagonist here, the complete loss of will and motivation to feel anything.

There’s something intriguing about the slice of life cinematic style - it doesn’t have a dramatic plot, no pulsating action or suspenseful storyline to keep us on the edge of our seats - and yet, I can’t seem to be able to leave the film to grab even a glass of water. Linklater is one of the masters of this style, keeping the viewers engaged via dialogues. Here, Joachim Trier opts for a more subtle approach of filmmaking, making us observe things rather than spoon-feeding us via expository dialogues. There are some powerful scenes scattered throughout the film. With the opening montage, we are absorbed into the old and beautiful city of Oslo, making us feel nostalgic about a place we’ve never been to. And then comes a powerful scene - we see the protagonist going for a walk into the forest, a shaky camera holding the inscrutable face of Anders in the frame. Once he reaches the lake, he fills up his jacket pockets with rocks and attempts to drown himself in the lake. The camera stays steady over the surface of the lake, instead of following him underwater, we shift in our seats - uncomfortable with anticipation. The tension resolves as we see Anders gasp out of the water and go back dejectedly towards his home. We learn that he’s a recovering addict, currently in an institution, and has suicidal tendencies.

All of this is shown without any soundtrack or dialogues.

Another scene that I found particularly powerful was the café scene. The way Anders selectively chooses to listen to particular conversations, especially a girl reciting her list of things she’d want to do over the course of her life, there’s a strong contrast between the girl’s (perhaps naive) optimism and Anders’ pessimism for life. Anders has lost his ability to feel motivation or pleasure as he desperately looks for some way to remedy this. Anders’ best friend quotes Proust during one of their discussions: "Trying to understand desire by watching a nude woman is like a child taking apart a clock to understand time".

Anders is trying to do exactly that, looking for some way to connect with the outside world without losing himself. There’s not a single pivotal moment in the film where one can say that this is where he stops trying, instead we see him increasingly spiraling out of the natural order and getting distant from the illusory ideal he was hoping for in the first half of the film. He hesitantly goes to a friend’s party, trying to achieve some normalcy in his otherwise fucked up life, but there he is reminded of the same old crowd of people who are miserable and unhappy with their lives and are trying to drown their sorrows with alcohol - and this reminder is too much for Anders. He begins to feel convinced that there’s no way for him to get out of this death spiral and begins to let go. There’s no hope left for him. During one of the last scenes, he goes to his ancestral home where he finds a house full of reminders of his happy past, tries for the last time to feel some emotion by playing the old piano but halts abruptly as it’s evident he has lost his emotional connection with this once-beloved playing like everything else. The last sigh we hear from him is the only way he knows of feeling something - drugs, as he lets go for the last time.

The depression of a lone man struggling with mental health issues is shown beautifully here, even though the conclusions are tragic. Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of recommendations to watch Scandinavian movies and I’ve been loving them! This film will go down as yet another one of the great, grounded movies about depression, addiction, and city life in my diary.

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You can read the review on my website here: thelazyoxymoron.me/post/oslo-august-review/

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