Films about addiction typically focus on the downward spiral of the addict. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll fill the screen as we watch the cartoon action of a life destroyed. If there is an attempt at recovery, it usually comes at the end of the film, leaving the viewer with the hopeful message that the addict will overcome their problem. Oslo, August 31st is a film that begins at the end of recovery, following Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie) as he leaves rehab for a job interview, spends an evening reconnecting with friends, and struggles with the idea of life without drugs.
Director Joachim Trier does an incredible job of portraying an aspect of drug addiction that is rarely seen. It’s not Anders struggle with his drug addiction we watch, it’s what Anders is going through mentally as he tries to figure out his life after drugs. Anyone who has struggled with addiction will instantly connect with the things Anders speaks about. While meeting with a friend, they discuss what the future holds for him. Getting a job, buying a house, getting married, having children, these are the things that his friend has, but Anders can’t see these things for himself. Drugs was the reason he continued in life, and without them, what is left for him?
Anders is also an unusual character. Our ideas about drug addicts are fiercely challenged by his character. He’s intelligent, talented, and good looking. His parents treated him well, and taught him all the important lessons he would need in life. There seems to be no reason for him to use drugs at all, and that’s where the film soars. This is reality. We’re never told why Anders turned to drugs, and it’s hard to understand why he would in the first place, but he has. People resort to drug and alcohol addictions every day, and there isn’t always an obvious reason. With Anders, Trier has created a character that is so realistic, it would be understandable to mistake this for a documentary.
The viewer is swept along with Anders, feeling each emotion with him, possibly more strongly than the character. Anders Danielsen Lie delivers a fantastic performance with the most subtle motion. Every feeling he has comes across so perfectly in his expression, ranging from utter despair to intense joy. Brought together with this amazing performance are some incredibly moving scenes, the best being one in a cafe. As Anders sits by himself, he randomly listens to the conversations around him. People perfectly content in their everyday lives, speaking about children, significant others, their hopes, their dreams. Anders listens, occasionally smiling to himself, but ultimately seeming like he’s overcome with the idea of a regular life. We learn a lot about his character in that moment.
This is perhaps one of the most realistic and moving films that this reviewer has ever watched. Viewers will want Anders to succeed so desperately that every second he spends disappointed feels like an eternity. The film is intelligent, respectful, touching, and heartbreaking, and is easily one of the best films this year.
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