Political Film Review #574

In 143 minutes, director Paul Greengrass gives more than enough time in 22 July to explain Norway’s version of 9/11. On that date in 2011, Anders Behring Breivik (played by Anders Danielsen Lie) set off a bomb near the prime minister’s office and then opened fire on Utøya Island, where the ruling Labor Party operated a summer camp for teenage sons and daughters of party members. The result was 77 deaths and about 320 wounded.

The beginning of the film does not provide the context, which Breivik later identifies as the immigration policy that permitted entry of Muslims and an elitist cultural policy known as multiculturalism. Breivik relies on Internet support for his chauvinistic preference to keep Norway as a Christian country. Also neglected until later is his personal isolation, living without a father for much of his life, a mother subscribing to his chauvinistic views, no siblings, and no friends outside the Internet. His murderous role is that of self-directed “lone wolf.”

Instead, the initial focus is on how the attacks are carried out in gruesome detail. Later information emerges on how the government complacently neglected preventive measures.

A considerable portion of the film traces the fate of Viljar Hanssen (Jonas Strand Gravli), a teenager shot several times by Breivik on the island. He is rescued, hospitalized yet given little chance of recovery, later regains his strength to testify at Breivik’s trial as a witness who saw his face while bullets emerged from his weapon. Filmviewers see how his bloodied body is recovered, he is placed on the operating table, hospitalized, undergoes physical therapy in segments that extend far too long, whereas film editors were evidently too mesmerized to slice the excessive footage to a more palatable 90 or 120 minutes. That Hanssen has an admiring Muslim girlfriend underscores the anti-chauvinist film theme.

The third part of 22 July deals with Breivik’s capture, arrest, interrogation, trial preparation, trial, and imprisonment. He insists on legal representation by Geir Lippestad (Jon Øigarden), who does not remember that they met briefly about a decade earlier. Lippestad encourages Breivik to plead insanity, but Breivik later decides to plead guilty so that he can make public his “declaration of war.”

Whereas Hanssen points out that he relies on family support, he notes that Breivik is alone, thereby providing the main thesis of the film—that isolated persons who feel treated as members of a mass society are most likely to react violently against scapegoats. Nevertheless, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (Ola G. Furuseth) responds with catchphrases about democracy and human rights and otherwise appears clueless on how to respond to the incident other than by increasing security measures for Norway. The Political Film Society has nominated 22 July as best film exposé of 2018, having laid out the parameters of an event that was not as isolated as the film pretends. MH