This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Lise’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
If someone wants to destroy himself, society should allow him to do so
Oslo, August 31 is the very sad story of a self-reflective young man who cannot escape what he sees as the meaninglessness of his life. Anders has been trying to find happiness or if not that then something, anything, on which to hang hope, to no avail. He turned to drugs. The weight of his existential views combined with the destruction he caused through drug use is almost unbearable. Now almost done with rehab, it should be a time for new beginnings. A little bit of hope should spring forth. And it does one evening when he meets with Malin, an old friend. But looking at her in bed he feels nothing. Nothing at all. And with that begins the story of how Anders uses his day pass away from rehab to set a plan in motion.
I struggled writing this review, a lot, because I couldn't decide if Anders knew this was to be his last day or if he decided it sometime during the day. I was convinced that his plan was in place, having set-up a meeting with his sister to get the keys to his family home. Furthermore, he mentions to Thomas that an OD would be the way to go. But he didn't have enough money to buy the drugs until he rifled through pockets at the party in the last part of the film, a party he was only invited to earlier in the day. I had it in my head that if he had planned the entire day, the review would be different than if he hadn't and I tried to make everything fit with that scenario. I finally gave up hours later, and realized that this is precisely what people tend to do when someone they know commits suicide: they try to pinpoint when the decision was made, as though they could have done something. They agonize over it and see every action through its lens. That the film made me do the exact same thing is brilliant.
I loved Anders. He was a beautiful, gentle, intellectual lost soul who realized, like most of us could if we thought about it as much, that the line between hope and despair is truly a thin one. His despair came to him in all directions, from the overwhelming guilt of his actions, to the loss of meaningful relationships brought on by the drug use. But worse than this, it sprang from deep within him before the drug use. He couldn't find a comfortable place in the world because everything it in seemed meaningless. "Happy people were morons". They were happy to work in warehouses and have children and just live, without ever examining questions of purpose and existence that overwhelm him. But of course the problem isn't with those people; the problem is that he envies them. "If you are unsentimental about it, no one needs me, not really" and that realization is crushing.
The film's three main moments are mirrored in telephone calls to Iselin.
Anders visits his old friend Thomas, where he expresses, perhaps for the first time, the depth of his despair. In a touching scene, he recounts how a colleague in rehab re-enacts Thomas in a role-playing exercise: "It always ends with the same words: 'I love you Anders, I forgive you'. Like it's something they all think they need to hear." If Thomas is playing the tough guy by having a beer, not admitting that he knows the location of the baby's teething ring and teasing Anders about having had so many Swedish women, Anders is playing it just as tough, masking his need for forgiveness in this off-hand way. His face betrays him. The main purpose in seeing Thomas, though, is to ensure he understands that Anders' suicide, if it comes to be, will be something he has planned and chosen, even if it looks like an overdose. It is important that his friends know he is not foolish enough to kill himself by accident.
- In his first call to Iselin he needs to tell her something important.
Following the interview, which is both hopeful (why go to the interview at all) and devastating (the way he leaves, knowing nothing will ever change) he sits in a cafe and listens to all of the conversations around him. It is a brilliant scene. It could look like Anders is enjoying the moment, being surrounded by 'normal' people with 'normal' hopes and problems, but there too the darkness overshadows. Anders watches as a young man walks by the window and imagines his destination: a park bench, alone, in despair. He then sees a woman and imagines her going through her routine at the gym, the store, putting away her groceries, then leaning against the counter in a moment of desperation. Life, the mundane, the overlooking of despair can only take you so far.
It isn't clear why Anders decides to go the party after all, but we know it is to see Thomas. Has he forgotten to tell him something? Or does he want to surround himself with people on what may be his final evening? Whatever the reason, there is a touching scene where Mirjam, the hostess, confides her own desperation to her old friend, and Anders kisses her. Did he feel something? Is there a tiny bit of hope? Perhaps he is not so alone after all?
- The second call to Iselin is to tell her he's changed, that he needs to leave Oslo, that he needs to be with her and that everything will be fine.
When he steals the money from guest purses and jackets, is it to buy the final gram or is it to buy a bus ticket out of Oslo? Is being seen stealing the deciding factor?
In the last half of the film Anders puts the plan in motion. He spends his last night partying with three people, all strangers but one. With strangers there is no guilt, not need to explain anything and no need to lie. With the decision out of the way, he feels lighter. He can have fun. He can be 'normal'. He can watch the sunrise without despair. Anders leaves the group to go to his family home.
- The last call to Iselin is to confirm that she was right about him, that he hadn't changed and they both knew it. Glimmers of hope, if he has them, are too light to bear his weight.
- Remember what you once said: "If someone wants to destroy himself, society should allow him to do so"
- I was probably thinking about promoting junk food, or criminalizing prostitution, I don't know.