With you this world is joyous, and with you that world is joyous;
in this world dwell not without me, and to that world depart not without me.

– Rumi, “278”

In considering common threads which unite the great characters in fiction, from Raskolnikov to Emma Bovary to Mearsault, it is clear that anomie is at the root of it. From its origins in labour theory, Émile Durkheim’s “social disorder”  has come to encompass a very specific facet of psychological anguish, one which results from a veritable wedge between the consciousness of the individual and the collective norms of society. The anomic individual wanders as a spectre in an unfamiliar land, disengaged from the world around him/her, in a quest to attain some sort of meaning or identity. For Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie), this apathetic wasteland is Oslo, appropriately grey, muted, and indifferent. His journey through a single day and night in the capital, surrounded by ghosts of his past and premonitions of his future, speaks not only as an elegy to a misspent youth of addiction, but to a sense of self irrevocably and paradoxically woven with the destructive forces which sustain it.

As aforementioned, Oslo‘s minimalist elegance is more than an aesthetic decision – it draws deliberate attention to Anders’ blurred, almost sterile perception of the world he now inhabits. Sitting in a cafe, trails of conversation from surrounding tables filter through his consciousness, the trivia of it all bringing a wry grimace to his face. The audience is consistently made aware of the invisible divide between Anders and everyone else, from soft lens focus blurring his image and sharpening others; to the scene of falling asleep in a crowded park, only to wake in isolation. There is a singular scene in which Anders says goodbye to a friend Thomas, interleaved with a jump cut as Anders walks away – at first, it almost seems like a mistake, but it becomes clear as the narrative continues into the night that it serves to illustrate the fragmented nature of Anders’ psyche, both from himself and from others.

The question of suicide lingers heavy in the air, although no further mentions are made of it after the initial conversation with Thomas. It is forefronted by reunions with old friends, melancholic reminiscences, and a night-long party-turned-rave, the aftermath of which is a perfect and tender echo of the French nouvelle vague of the 60’s.  Throughout it all is the performance of Danielsen Lie. The intensity with which he embodies the broken protagonist is nothing short of compelling mastery, drifting through frustration and vulnerability in moments of immense pathos.

The film makes a careful delineation between the nostalgic reflections of Norwegians on the capital city of their youth, and the same city as viewed through Anders’ disillusioned eyes. The latter is decidedly unsentimental and picturesque, even as he attempts to seek out futile connections in a city that has moved on without him. His fruitless attempts to engage with other echo Dostoevsky’s Underground Man, ending in apathy and resignation. Anders’ final act in the film begs the question as to whether this is what he had planned for all along, considering the Woolf-esque prologue. Trier is not interested in passing judgment on his protagonist, and instead is keen to merely present a portrait of a damaged man who may or may not believe in deserving a second chance. Despite taking place in a metropolitan city, Oslo August 31st feels unwaveringly intimate, caught between moments of melancholic contemplation and ordinary life – the thought which are splayed across the surface, and those that simmer quietly beneath it.

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