Utøya: July 22nd

- Review by Amanda Harvey

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Some films outlive their numerical screen times. Instead of leaving the theatre being able to breathe in the freedom of your own life, the images burrow into your very soul revealing an inexperienced core. A film that lasts forever in your memory occurs because of the stress, the empathy, and the acute sensibility to depict something real. One such film is Erik Poppe’s Utøya: July 22. The movie is based on real events, but all characters are, to a certain extent, fictional. Moments of the real event make the film. For instance, the run time of the filmic island sequence is 72 minutes because that’s how long it took for the victims to get rescued.

The film begins with aerial shots of Oslo paired with surveillance video footage of the tower block, housing the office of the Prime Minister: Jens Stoltenberg. Cuts from city to surveillance footage create a rhythm waiting to be disturbed. The bomb goes off: shops shake, buildings crumble, and people scream. The cruelty of Oslo’s disaster is pitted against the isolation and safely of the island, Utøya.

We are introduced to Kaja (Andrea Berntzen) as she stares back at us talking on the phone to her mum, who is just confirmed as safe from the explosion in Oslo. We trail behind Kaja. She checks on her friend who doesn’t know if her parents are safe, she has an argument with her sister about respecting the situation, and she argues with friends about the nationality of the assailant. The fight leads into the catastrophe without a breath to find a resolution. A topic of conversation turns into an abominable situation.

We are launched into a changed world where worries and shotguns echo through the air. Kaja’s mission through the film, and therefore our mission, is to find her sister, Emilie (Elli Rhiannon Müller Osbourne). Through the chaos, we hide in the throes of trees, stones, and tents burrowing away even from Kaja’s face. The simulation style, mimicking video games, leaves us with a lack of control and forces us to be witnesses.

The aspects of the film that create the particularly jarring effect are important to note. The first aspect is the effect of a seamless one take. The one take creates an agency to the situation mimicking the experience of everyday life. The shaky camera also enhances the reality of the situation. Particularly whenever the gunshots are heard the camera shakes mimicking the hearts of those we watch. The sound crunches because of the gunshots, the forest, and the ocean. Silence is only a reminder of death.   

The eerie conversations, the desperation in tones, the plea for anyone who is around, and the overall stanch destitute rings through every second of the film. Though the film is harsh to sit through without moving, contemplating your own existence, and occasionally covering your eyes literally with hands or crowding your vision with tears, this film is important. The film is important because it directly distinguishes who’s affected and not who did it. They never show the pseudo Anders Breivik. There’s no explanation into why this happened, instead we are left with the simulated reality which left a mark on those present. The empathy evoked is indescribable. I personally felt empty at the end of the film. Though my feelings as a viewer by no means can begin to understand those involved, not only because of the situation, but because of the power of the film. The pseudo feelings I felt were powerful enough to leave an everlasting mark on my own reality.