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Revisiting—and Politicizing—the 2011 Oslo Massacres

Just out on Netflix, Paul Greengrass's new film, 22 July, takes its title from the date in 2011 on which a lone maniac named Anders Behring Breivik murdered seventy-seven people in Norway. But only the first third or so of the movie covers the actual events of that date – the massive explosion Breivik set off in a parked panel truck outside the major government building in Oslo, killing eight, and the shootings he then carried out at the ruling Labor Party's annual summer youth camp on the nearby island of Utøya, which took sixty-nine lives. The second third of the movie depicts the aftermath of the atrocities and the preparations for Breivik's trial, and the third focuses on the trial itself.

If the film divides into three distinct acts, it also has three distinct plot lines. One of them focuses on Viljar (Jonas Strand Gravli), a teenage boy from the Arctic island of Svalbard, where his mother is the Labor Party's candidate for mayor. We first glimpse him in a political seminar at Utøya, where he stands up in front of his fellow campers and talks about how multi-ethnic Svalbard is and how well everyone there gets along and works together. A few minutes later he, his brother, and some of their friends are running through the woods being shot at by Breivik (Anders Danielsen Lie). Viljar sustains several wounds and, after Breivik's capture, survives extensive surgery only to confront, in the succeeding months, a bad case of PTSD.

Another narrative focuses on Jens Stoltenberg (Ola G. Furuseth), the then prime minister of Norway, who after July 22 sets up a commission to investigate what had gone wrong. Why, he wants to know, hadn't Norwegian intelligence known about Breivik, who had been accumulating bomb ingredients for a long time without detection? Also, how had he managed to kill so many people before being stopped?

A third plot line concerns Geir Lippestad (Jon Øigarden), the Oslo lawyer and Labor Party member whom Breivik selects as his defense attorney. Examined by a team of psychiatrists, Breivik is judged to be insane, and at first agrees to plead accordingly. But he then decides to challenge that diagnosis and to take full responsibility – or, in his eyes, credit – for his actions. He doesn't want to be seen as a maniac, he informs Lippestad, but instead wants to be recognized as a thoroughly sane person who committed a thoroughly sane, indeed courageous, act.

Breivik's explanation for his bloodbath is this: the Norwegian government, with the Labor Party at its helm, has flooded Norway with unassimilable Muslim immigrants whose alien values and culture makes them an existential danger to the nation. The leaders of the Labor Party, he charges, are traitors to their country; if he set out to slaughter their children at Utøya it's because, he says, he wanted to hit these traitors where it would hurt them the most.