It’s shocking to see the steep drop in energy from Joachin Trier’s thrilling 2006 debut, Reprise, to his follow-up, which is so stark that it loosely adapts the same short novel that inspired Louis Malle’s 1961 suicide saga The Fire Within. In retrospective, though, both are depression-o-ramas. Reprise may be vivacious, but it’s still about post-collegiate hell, when dreams and ideologies tend to get bulldozered by reality. It’s a bleak summation of one’s 20s, while Oslo, August 31st is an even bleaker take on one’s 30s, when the still rootless, unmarried and/or childless have to make a choice: assimilate or continue on a downward trajectory.
Having played a writer who suffers a nervous breakdown in Reprise, Anders Danielsen Lie returns, this time much worse: he’s an addict. He could be the same character—at one point, we’re told, he was an aspiring writer, but his promise was waylaid by smack. As per the title, we only catch him on one semi-eventful day: he’s allowed a pass from his country clinic into the city to attend a job interview. There, he will meet up with friends, who have settled down with families; hang in cafes, where he will eavesdrop on the only slightly happier lives of others; go to parties, where he will be tempted by regression, and generally feel like an outsider to the rest of humanity.
Oslo is a touch too straightforward, easily read as standard junkie piffle; there will be no backslaps for guessing whether or not our hero will backslide. But it’s easier—and more rewarding—to read the drug addiction angle as a metaphor, with Lie’s character simply someone who’s taken so long to grow up that he likely never will. There is no life, Trier pessimistically posits, for loners after a certain point, and he pinpoints this around the mid-30s. Bathed in the melancholic hues of a dying summer, Oslo finds a doomed man learning to briefly join humanity in grasping like mad for one last dash of fun before it officially ends in September. For them, it’s back to school or taking work again seriously; for Lie, it’s likely the void. If we’re lucky, Trier will choose not to document the 40s.