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Time and place really matter in this dark drama. The film begins in a documentary style of shots from Oslo with voiceover of people describing their experiences moving and living there. Then we meet Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie, REPRISE) as he is walking through the woods. He comes upon a lake, weighs himself down with rocks and walks into the water to his impending death. This is the start of this original story about a recovering drug addict.
As you might expect Anders does not die in his attempt to end his life. He is finishing up a long stay at a drug rehabilitation center. His counselor speaks positively about his job interview that day. It’s his chance to start his life over. Anders gets in a taxi and goes back to Oslo where all the demons of his old life live.
The first person he meets is old friend Thomas (Hans Olav Brenner) who used to be his party buddy. But now Thomas has got married and had two kids. Between his home life and his busy work life as a professor, Thomas doesn’t have the energy to go out to parties anymore, he’d rather just stay home and play video games. The old friends walk on eggshells around each other not knowing what to say. On a stroll in the park, Anders opens up, but Thomas doesn’t seem ready to deal with the dark place his friend is now in. He doesn’t quite know how important is pep talk will be.
Anders goes to his job interview and that is just the beginning of the downward spiral we painfully hope he can pull himself out of. How does he explain the large gap on his resume? If he tells the truth is there any good job that would hire him? Now at 35 does he have the energy to start at the bottom and work this way back up? The rest of the day meeting friends and family continues to underline how drugs has put a pause on his life. He’s been given a second chance, unfortunately the playing field is now littered with land mines, the biggest being his constant desire to start using again.
Time and place play a key role because they play into the plight of the main character. In the opening section, Anders talks about moving to Oslo and how he was so excited to be going to the big city. But once he got there he realized the big city was not the same as his imagination made it out to be. Now coming out of rehab, the city does not seem to have the opportunity a metropolitan area should provide. In a brilliant scene, Anders sits at a café and listens to the conversations of the strangers around — some more hopeful, others are not. He even imagines where some of the people go once they leave and what their lives are like when the world isn’t there to watch. His story is just one of many in this not so big city.
Time matters because the plot takes place over a 24-hour period of time. The date will mark a major moment in Anders’ life. Symbolically the date marks the end of summer and the beginning of fall. Twenty-four hours might not seem like a lot of time, but depending on our choices it could be a lifetime.
If there is one other grand factor that plays a role in this story — it would be coincidence. What if Thomas didn’t invite Anders to that party? What if Thomas decided to do something different that night? What if Anders’ ex-girlfriend answered one of his calls? What if his sister was more ready to deal with him? What if he never went out with the young girls from the party? What if you never return to his family home, which his parents had to sell to pay for his rehabilitation?
For the most part director Joachim Trier (REPRISE) simply observes conversations. His artistry comes out in the way he uses filmmaking techniques to convey the inner thoughts and emotions of his main character, such as in the café scene. In the conclusion, the film is visually poetic in how it uses a montage of imagery to convey what really happened to Anders. Instead of just telling us what has happened, Trier uses the power of visual storytelling to allow audience a moment to ponder what has happened, forcing the audience to take a moment once it is over to think about what it all meant.
There are many great films like DRUGSTORE COWBOY and REQUIEM FOR A DREAM that show the ugly depths of addiction. OSLO, AUGUST 31 makes those films seem like scared straight propaganda, and yet it still has the emotion power to scare the audience into never trying drugs in the first place. What makes this drug story different is it’s portrayal of the destruction that addiction plays on the person’s life even after they have cleaned up. Time is so important to story because addiction warps time. It ravages the body faster than time would normally and yet the addicted’s life is put in a suspect animation, or even worse thrown back in time, while the rest of the world moves on.