Outsiders Marathon: Oslo, August 31st (2011)

It's interesting to attend social functions as a solo participant. Whether it's going to a movie theater, seeing a concert at a club, or just sitting in a coffee shop, the experience is much different. I tend to be more aware of my surroundings and what other people are doing. You're less wrapped up in your own interactions and notice all the strange doings. A good example of this scenario happens in Joachim Trier's Oslo, August 31st. A man just out of drug rehab goes to a restaurant and pays close attention to the other customers hanging around him. We see glimpses at where they're heading afterwards, though it may just be his expectations. This outsider perspective is the focus of my new marathon, which tackles a group of films that present figures on the fringes of social groups. It's a common topic for a movie and can lead to great drama when that character starts moving beyond his individual space. This first entry shows how a guy on leave from drug rehab tries to reconnect with the friends and family from his past life. It's no easy task, particularly when some aren't over his transgressions from his messy former existence.

What's this story about?
Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie) is a 34-year-old guy who receives a one-day leave from drug rehab for a job interview. He goes to Oslo and seeks out friends and family but discovers that not everyone welcomes him. He visits his buddy Thomas (Hans Olav Brenner) and his wife Rebecca (Ingrid Olava), but their family life with two kids seems foreign. He starts wondering if it's possible for him to connect with society as a sober guy, and the danger of falling back into old habits increases with each difficulty. Over the span of a single day, he struggles to stay afloat and not fall back into the darkness.

How is the main character an outsider?
It’s clear right from his first appearance that Anders is disconnected from society. He’s slept with a girl but seems isolated even when waking up beside her. When he leaves the rehab center, there’s little excitement about this new freedom. Anders tries to connect with Thomas and explain how he feels, but their lives are so different. He’s thinking about ending it all, while his buddy is just trying to raise a family. Going to parties is also difficult because the inane conversations seem pointless when compared to his inner turmoil. One guy repeatedly asks him to recall a drunken anecdote, and it’s clear that Anders can’t enjoy this idle chatter. He meets a beautiful girl and hits the clubs, and she clearly digs him. Even so, he can’t disregard the feeling that’s he still a solo guy in a foreign environment.

What external forces (if any) have created this isolation?
While his drug addiction is clearly a factor, Anders is struggling as much with internal demons that pushed him towards the substances in the first place. He’s feeling isolated because his girlfriend is in New York, and repeated attempts to call her fall short. There is hope that he can turn it around, and an interview for a job at a local publication shows promise. However, Anders sabotages his chance and shows the main reason he can’t pull everything together. Characters are consistently trying to guide him to a better place, but they can’t break down the emotional barriers. There are cracks in the fa├žade that seem ready to shatter, yet he pulls back and doesn’t let them subside. It’s frustrating to watch a guy with potential drift away into nothingness with so much energy happening around him.

Do the situations feel authentic and natural for the environment?
Definitely. In his first film Reprise, Joachim Trier captured a specific type of artist who's so wrapped up in his work that he barely connects with society. It was believable and moving, yet certain scenes felt overdone. None of those issues appear in this story, which uses a subtle approach to show Anders' moves back toward his old habits. It begins with a sip of champagne and slowly morphs into a visit to his former dealers. It's extremely sad to watch this regression, yet it's hardly manipulative. We feel so strongly for Anders and want him to make the right choice, but there's a uneasy feeling that it's not going to happen. The final scenes are heartbreaking yet fit completely within the framework built in the opening frames. Despite the wonders of youth in this lively city, all Anders can see is the hard road ahead. He considers each possibility and then chooses his fate, whatever the consequences.

What themes are being tackled by the director with these outsiders?
Although it chronicles a recovering drug addict, this film rarely feels morose. Trier presents the possibility of redemption from past wrongs for a guy who doesn't believe he deserves it. Of course, he's also showing the uncaring nature of a community that only sees his worst qualities. Every perceived slight pushes Anders further back towards his past troubles. Anders Danielsen Lie does a remarkable job in showing the glimmers of life within the somber guy. While dancing the night away at a club with attractive women everywhere, he lets himself go to the excitement. Still, the tragic look remains in his eyes despite the energy surrounding him. Trier reminds us that nothing will change a guy who's given up on himself. It's only a matter of time before the darkness claims him once again.

Next week, I'll go back to high school and uncover The Perks of Being a Wallflower.


  1. Great review here, Dan. Really glad you enjoyed this one, and that it fit so well into this specific marathon. This movie definitely creates situations that feel authentic and natural for its environment. And I also appreciated how you said that, given its material, the movie never feels morose. It was just so... real to me.

    1. Alex, I was surprised by how well it fit within the marathon since I only knew the premise when I set it up that way. It's a sad story, but far from depressing since there's so much life around Anders. It just still isn't enough to change his fate. I'm glad that you also enjoyed it. Thanks!

  2. I had a fun process with this movie. It's basically a remake of my favorite movie ever made- Louis Malle's The Fire Within. They both draw from the same source material and they both tried to update the original piece (Pierre Drieu La Rochelle's "Le Feu Follet") to modern times. I had every expectation that I'd hate it simply because I didn't think it could live up to Malle's version. But it did it up just right.

    It's really one of my favorite movies over the last few years. It was like taking Malle's version and adding a Scandinavian sensibility to it, which seems so natural.

    Great movie, and as always, a great review.

    1. John, this film definitely had a Scandinavian feel to it, and I mean that as a major compliment. Even when Anders is dancing in a club with beautiful women, there's a certain grey feeling that never goes away. I was really impressed by this film. Thanks!

  3. This is an excellent - and inspired - pick for your Outsiders marathon, Dan. Really glad you were able to check this one out, as it blew me away last year. One of my favorites from 2012. It's amazing to think that Danielsen-Lie is a doctor by day and not a full-time actor. He was so good in this.

    1. Wow. I had no idea that Danielsen-Lie is a doctor. He was also great in Reprise from Joachim Trier, so I assumed he was a full-time actor. I'd read a few recommendations about this film and am so glad that I checked it out for this marathon. Thanks!


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