Film (2018) directed by Paul Greengrass, reviewed by Robert Henderson
Having adopted the disguise of a policeman, on 22 July 2011 Anders Breivik exploded a bomb near a government building in the Norwegian capital Oslo, killing eight people. He then went to the nearby island of Utøya where a Workers’ Youth League (AUF) summer camp was being held. There he shot and killed 77 people and wounded around two hundred more. Most of the victims were young. Breivik’s justification for the attack was that Norway was being betrayed by an elite who were allowing large numbers of immigrants, especially Muslim immigrants, to radically change the nature of Norwegian society.
His killing rampage is the starting point of the film. Breivik is shown as a merciless but efficient killer, as he must have been, considering the number of dead and wounded. After the killings, the film follows two plot lines: that of Breivik and that of the Hansen family. We meet Viljar Hanssen (Jonas Strand Gravli) early in the film when he and his brother Torje Hanssen (Isak Bakli Aglen) are at the summer camp. Viljar is selected to address the Workers’ Youth League campers. He trots out the routine internationalist line about the wonders of diversity and how everyone from anywhere should be welcomed. Shortly after this, Breivik begins shooting. Viljar and his brother Torje escape death but Viljar suffers serious wounds including one to the head. A substantial subsequent part of the film is devoted to Viljar’s long and painful recuperation. His part in the story culminates with Breivik refusing to look at him as he makes a victim statement to the court.
The aftermath of Breivik’ mass killing was agonising for the Norwegian elite because, unlike some other mass killers, Breivik neither committed suicide nor was shot “when resisting arrest”. Breivik alive and eager to tell his story was a nightmare for the powers-that-be. Being arrested was part of Breivik’s plan. To this end, he rung the police and told them that he was ready to surrender. It is telling that the film does not address this important fact. This omission is important because in real life, Breivik was always in control. He successfully accomplished the bombing and the shootings, he then decided when he should be arrested and he stage managed his trial.
Breivik’s choice of lawyer was strange, to wit, Geir Lippestad, a lawyer from the despised Norwegian elite. When asked why he chose Lippestad, Breivik said that he had defended a neo-Nazi in an honest fashion. The most telling exchange of the film is between Breivik and his lawyer. Lippsetad says that “Norway is not on trial”, to which Breivik replies with a wry smile “Are you sure about that?” That simple exchange encapsulates the moral confusion surrounding Breivik’s terrible act. He was a mass killer but his motive was deeply embarrassing for the Norwegian elite. That is not to excuse what Breivik did. But without mass immigration, Breivik would not have carried out the massacre.
In another telling scene, Lippestad tries to persuade Breivik’s mother to give evidence about his unsettled upbringing. She refuses because she is afraid of public condemnation, but as Lippestad leaves, she maintains that her son was right about the negative effects of mass immigration.
Breivik’s first legal ploy was to plead insanity. This was ostensibly at odds with his desire to make his motivation known to the world, as evidenced by his planned surrender to the police and his long political testament. Either Breivik lost his nerve here or he intended to highlight the hypocrisy of the liberal left elite by inducing a rejection of his plea of insanity, a plea that in any other circumstance would have been accepted. But whatever Breivik’s motive for the insanity plea, he reverted to pleading not guilty.
The stars of the film are Anders Danielsen Lie as Breivik and Jon Øigarden as Geir Lippestad. Danielsen Lie has the “lean and hungry” look of Cassius. Both his general persona and his unapologetic explanation for his actions may make his portrayal of Breivik prey to the “Alf Garnett effect”, whereby a right-wing and politically incorrect character elicits sympathy from the audience.
Breivik’s message was distorted both by the massacre and by his fantasy of being a latter day Knight Templar. But that cannot obscure the fact that mass immigration is an existential threat to Norway. Since Breivik’s murderous assault, we have seen a populist revolt throughout Europe against the effects of mass immigration in general and Islamic immigration in particular. This was not a direct result of Breivik’s actions but a response to the same general conditions – elites detached from those whom they rule – which drove Breivik to commit his dreadful massacre.
At two hours, twenty three minutes, 22 July could have benefitted from more editing. Nonetheless, it is an important and watchable film. It is important because the film’s makers cannot hide the fact that Breivik was trying to combat what he and many ordinary Norwegians consider the betrayal of Norway. Norway has a population of only 5.37 million. Over the past 4 years (2015-2018), 128, 000 immigrants have arrived, mostly from third world countries. Since 2000, the overall population has increased by 853,996. As the Norwegian birth rate is below replacement level, it seems reasonable to assume that the increase is due to new immigrants and to immigrants having children. Native Norwegians could well be in the minority by 2050.