This Is Us

In the story of Nor­we­gian mil­i­tant An­ders Behring Breivik, film­maker Paul Green­grass saw an in­cit­ing mo­ment for our dis­turb­ing time.

Newsweek International - - NEWSWEEK - BY MARY KAYE SCHILLING

On July 22, 2011, a heav­ily armed 32-year-old man pos­ing as a po­lice of­fi­cer ar­rived on Nor­way’s Utoya Is­land, site of the an­nual Work­ers’ Youth League sum­mer camp, which trains lead­ers for Nor­way’s left-lean­ing Labour Party. He told staffers he was there to pro­tect the is­land from right-wing ex­trem­ists who had bombed the Oslo of­fice of the prime min­is­ter less than two hours be­fore.

The man told the campers to re­main calm; no one could hurt them now. But within min­utes, his true in­ten­tion was re­vealed when he turned his semi-au­to­matic ri­fle on the young men and women, mostly teenagers, some as young as 14. “You will die to­day Marx­ist lib­er­als, mem­bers of the elite,” he an­nounced, as he sprayed the crowd with bul­lets.

The ter­ri­fied campers scat­tered into the trees. For just over an hour, the killer stalked them, me­thod­i­cally gun­ning down whomever he found, push­ing his vic­tims through the woods, to the small is­land’s edges, un­til there was nowhere left to hide. By the time the po­lice ar­rived, he had killed 69 peo­ple and in­jured 100 more.

The lone gun­man, a right-wing ex­trem­ist named An­ders Behring Breivik, had also been re­spon­si­ble for the Oslo ex­plo­sion ear­lier that day. The home­made bomb was placed in a van parked near the of­fice of Jens Stoltenberg, the prime min­is­ter of Nor­way and leader of the gov­ern­ing Red-green coali­tion, which is com­mit­ted to so­cial-demo­cratic ideals. That blast killed eight peo­ple.

The world quickly learned of Breivik’s Is­lam­o­pho­bic, anti-fem­i­nist, cul­tural con­ser­va­tive ide­ol­ogy. His 1,500-word man­i­festo,

2083, was shared on­line and trans­lated into mul­ti­ple lan­guages. He was a self-ap­pointed “Jus­ti­ciar Knight” op­er­at­ing as jury, judge and ex­e­cu­tioner on be­half of Western Euro­peans. “It is bet­ter to kill too many than not enough,” he wrote. “The time for di­a­logue is over…. The time for armed re­sis­tance has come.”

Breivik’s at­tacks, some­times called Nor­way’s 9/11, oc­cupy the first half-hour of 22 July, writ­ten and di­rected by Paul Green­grass. The scenes are har­row­ing, partly be­cause he presents them with a mat­ter-of-fact econ­omy not un­like the killer’s sys­tem­atic slaugh­ter.

Breivik sur­ren­dered to po­lice on Utoya, and the bulk of Green­grass’s film is de­voted to his highly charged trial and the gru­el­ing re­cov­ery and tes­ti­mony of the sur­vivors—rep­re­sented in the film by two of them, Vil­jar Hanssen (played mov­ingly by Jonas Strand Gravli) and Lara Rashid (Seda Witt). 22 July, says Green­grass, “is not about the at­tacks. It’s about what hap­pened af­ter­ward, about how Nor­way fought for her democ­racy, and to put Breivik back in a box—lit­er­ally, of course. It’s how they fought his ide­ol­ogy, and the val­ues and sys­tems they de­ployed to do it.” What be­comes in­creas­ingly clear as 22 July pro­gresses is that while it is set in Nor­way in 2011, it is about all of us—at this mo­ment and to­mor­row. i hap­pened to in­ter­view Green­grass the day af­ter the far-right Swe­den Democrats won 17.6per­cent of the vote on Septem­ber 9 in Swe­den’s par­lia­men­tary elec­tions, a dis­turb­ing

in­di­ca­tion of the rise of na­tion­al­ism. “You know things are bad when not just a far-right party but a neo-nazi party has a share of power,” says Green­grass. “And that’s in a small coun­try, a bit like Nor­way, com­monly con­sid­ered to be pro­gres­sive, a place of peace and sen­si­bil­ity.”

The rise, of course, ex­tends well be­yond the bor­ders of Scan­di­navia—to Ger­many, Hun­gary, Aus­tria, Poland, Italy, the U.K. and the U.S. And that’s why the British di­rec­tor made the film, “as a way of talk­ing about the dan­gers in­her­ent in these un­prece­dented po­lit­i­cal changes.”

Green­grass has a re­porter’s eye for de­tail. He started as a jour­nal­ist and, in 1987, co-au­thored the best-sell­ing Spy­catcher,a book the British govern­ment tried to ban for ex­pos­ing, among other things, MI5’S du­bi­ous ethics. In the early ’90s, Green­grass moved to TV drama, then film­mak­ing, and his sub­se­quent ca­reer has see­sawed be­tween vis­ceral thrillers (in­clud­ing three of the films in the Bourne fran­chise) and what has be­come some­thing of a niche: drama­ti­za­tions of real-life vi­o­lence, like the Bafta-win­ning United 93, about the 9/11 at­tacks, and the Os­car-nom­i­nated Cap­tain Phillips.

In 2015, he read Asne Seier­stad’s crit­i­cally ac­claimed One of Us, about Breivik’s at­tacks and Nor­way’s re­sponse to them and to him. At the time, Green­grass didn’t con­sider adapt­ing the book. He had been in­ter­ested, in­stead, in mak­ing a film about the mi­grant ar­rivals on the Ital­ian is­land of Lampe­dusa. But then Brexit hap­pened, and Don­ald Trump and the Eu­ro­pean back­lash to the Syr­ian refugee cri­sis, “and you could feel that some­thing pro­found was chang­ing in the West,” he says. “And I re­mem­ber think­ing, What I should be do­ing is a film about the growth of the right.

One of Us made me re­al­ize that Breivik was an in­cit­ing mo­ment.” The trial cre­ated a cri­sis of con­science in Nor­way, thor­oughly test­ing the coun­try’s long-stand­ing com­mit­ment to non­vi­o­lence, tol­er­ance and com­pas­sion­ate jus­tice. Breivik’s stated aim was to use his trial as a plat­form for spread­ing his ide­ol­ogy, and he de­manded to be al­lowed to de­liver a state­ment in court, or he would not give ev­i­dence. “Nor­way had the prob­lem of, How do we deal with him?” says Green­grass. “Do we stop him talk­ing, or must we lis­ten?”

In the end, Breivik was al­lowed to speak for over an hour, de­liv­er­ing a pre­pared state­ment that de­scribed Nor­way as a coun­try de­stroyed by left­ists. He de­scribed the events of July 22 as “the most so­phis­ti­cated and spec­tac­u­lar po­lit­i­cal at­tack com­mit­ted in Europe since the Sec­ond World War.” It was clear that he re­gret­ted not killing more peo­ple. (Nor­we­gian ac­tor An­ders Danielsen Lie does a su­perb job of re-cre­at­ing the killer’s smug grandios­ity.)

Green­grass tells me about read­ing the tes­ti­mony for the first time. “Breivik’s not stupid—he’s an in­tel­li­gent man,” he says. “And I re­mem­ber feel­ing chilled be­cause his opin­ions were con­sid­ered ou­tra­geous and mar­ginal dur­ing his trial. Now, of course, no pop­ulist politi­cian in Europe or the U.S. would have any prob­lem with them.”

Green­grass point­edly blames the forces of glob­al­iza­tion for this hard-right turn, which, in the years lead­ing up to Breivik’s at­tack, “were tear­ing up the world or­der, de­liv­er­ing the crash of 2008, flat in­comes and no growth and a lot of peo­ple feel­ing locked out of the sys­tem. At the same time,” he adds, wars, bru­tal dic­ta­tor­ships and poverty are “cre­at­ing un­prece­dented pop­u­la­tion move­ments.”

In writ­ing United 93, he read The 9/11 Com­mis­sion Re­port and was struck by a phrase. “The thrust of it is that one of the phe­nomenons of moder­nity was that the West was be­gin­ning to look at the rest of the world through the wrong end of the tele­scope at the same time as the rest of the world was look­ing at us through the right end.” In other words, the West is less and less in­ter­ested in those be­yond its bor­ders, while those out­side those bor­ders have be­come in­creas­ingly aware of the ben­e­fits and lux­u­ries we have been en­joy­ing. And they want them too. “That par­a­digm shift,” says Green­grass, “was not to our ad­van­tage. Be­cause peo­ple will move, and they are mov­ing, and, by the way, we’re only at the be­gin­ning.”

While mak­ing 22 July, Green­grass thought a lot about his par­ents and grand­par­ents, who had lived through the ’30s. “They saw what hap­pened when, in the shadow of eco­nomic col­lapse, you had a growth of pro­tec­tion­ism and lead­ers preach­ing pop­ulism,” he says. “And where those lead­ers took the world was into war and catas­tro­phe.”

There’s an ar­gu­ment to be made that 22 July sim­ply gives Breivik an­other plat­form. “I un­der­stand that ar­gu­ment,” says Green­grass, “and I had to think about it be­fore I made the film. It just seemed to me wrong, be­cause Breivik did not act alone. He did what he did alone, but he didn’t do it in a vac­uum.”

Pre­tend­ing those ideas don’t ex­ist, he be­lieves, only makes the prob­lem worse. In the film, Breivik de­mands to speak to the prime min­is­ter af­ter his ar­rest. “Tell him I’m lis­ten­ing to him,” the ac­tor play­ing Stoltenberg tells a TV re­porter. “That’s a big mo­ment,” says Green­grass, “and they had to weigh that in the trial. Their con­clu­sion was that they had to let him speak, to al­low the ev­i­dence to show that he was part of a net­work of peo­ple who hold the same views. And then the sur­vivors had to be pre­pared to come in and not only tes­tify but find the words, the ar­gu­ments, the ideals, the be­liefs that will trump his. And that, in minia­ture, is what we’re look­ing at to­day.”

the film came to­gether quickly; it was made in a lit­tle over a year. The first step was meet­ing with the fam­i­lies of the vic­tims and sur­vivors. On one of Green­grass’s early trips to Nor­way, he met with Stoltenberg. “I re­mem­ber him say­ing, ‘If the fam­i­lies give you per­mis­sion, I re­ally hope you make the film be­cause this is to­mor­row’s prob­lem. We just need to open our eyes to it.”

The fam­i­lies and sur­vivors felt sim­i­larly and agreed to share their sto­ries. (Green­grass did not meet Breivik, nor does he have any de­sire to do so, “out of re­spect to the fam­i­lies.”) The film­maker does not

speak Nor­we­gian, but he did want the film to ex­press the “soul of Nor­way,” as he puts it, so he used an en­tirely na­tive cast and crew—es­sen­tially “mid­wif­ing their story.” The coun­try is bilin­gual, and, as it turned out, the ac­tors wanted to speak in English. They, like Green­grass, hope to reach as wide an au­di­ence as pos­si­ble—par­tic­u­larly young adults.

Green­grass’s grand­par­ents and par­ents emerged from World War II and pledged to build a world where the prac­tice of democ­racy was about con­strain­ing na­tion­al­ism—“not erad­i­cat­ing it, but keep­ing it within bound­aries,” he says. Young peo­ple to­day, faced with a world fur­ther desta­bi­lized by over­pop­u­la­tion, eco­nomic in­equal­ity and cli­mate change, will need to “find the bal­ance that al­lows for the ben­e­fits of glob­al­iza­tion but isn’t blind to the prob­lems thrown up by it.”

22 July is filled with hor­ror but also hope—though not the sim­plis­tic Hol­ly­wood kind; it’s hard-won, born of tremen­dous strug­gle. We see that through Vil­jar Hanssen, who was shot mul­ti­ple times and lost one eye. Dur­ing months of re­cov­ery, he nearly suc­cumbs to de­spair, but in the end he bravely faces Breivik in court and gives pow­er­ful tes­ti­mony against him—a con­fronta­tion that every­one in Nor­way re­mem­bers. “I never would want to make a ni­hilis­tic film,” says Green­grass, “be­cause I’m not in­clined that way my­self. I’ve got chil­dren in their 20s, and I see their en­ergy and op­ti­mism as a force that can move moun­tains. In the end, they are the ones who are go­ing to have to win this fight.”

Breivik (who now goes by the name Fjo­tolf Hansen) was sen­tenced to 21 years in prison, the max­i­mum avail­able in a coun­try that con­sid­ers prison a means for re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion rather than ret­ri­bu­tion. (His re­lease, how­ever, is de­pen­dent on whether he is still con­sid­ered a threat; given that he re­mains firmly de­voted to his ex­trem­ist ide­ol­ogy, the chances he will ever be free are slim.) It’s worth not­ing that Nor­way re­mains com­mit­ted to rout­ing ex­trem­ists and their meth­ods. Fol­low­ing last year’s Park­land, Florida, shoot­ing, which re­sulted in the deaths of 17 peo­ple, Nor­way—a coun­try that al­ready has strict gun laws— an­nounced plans to ban semi-au­to­matic guns by 2021.

Green­grass gives Breivik a telling last scene. He’s say­ing good­bye to his lawyer Geir Lippes­tad. The mass mur­derer, still de­fi­ant, tells him with a con­tented smile that the war­riors of the right will fin­ish what he started. “And Lippes­tad says, as he be­lieves, ‘My chil­dren will beat you, and their chil­dren will beat you,’” says Green­grass. “And I think that’s true. It’s go­ing to be a long process, and we’re only at the be­gin­ning, but I’ll al­ways bet on our chil­dren.”

“BREIVIK’S OPIN­IONS WERE CON­SID­ERED OU­TRA­GEOUS AND MAR­GINAL DUR­ING

HIS TRIAL. NOW, OF COURSE, NO POP­ULIST POLITI­CIAN IN EUROPE OR THE U.S. WOULD HAVE ANY PROB­LEM WITH THEM.”

From far left: A scene from 22 July with Gravli, cen­ter, as Hanssen; Prime Min­is­ter Stoltenberg; Stoltenberg’s of­fice build­ing af­ter the ex­plo­sion; Green­grass with Lie, who plays Breivik. REIGN OF TER­ROR

NATIVIST SPEAK­ERS From left: Breivik’s man­i­festo de­plored mi­grants and refugees pour­ing into Europe, like this boat res­cued off the coast of Libya; vot­ers in the Swedish gen­eral elec­tions on Septem­ber 9—the anti-im­mi­gra­tion Swe­den Democrats party threat­ens one of the few re­main­ing lib­eral gov­ern­ments in Europe; mem­bers of the far-right Nordic Re­sis­tance Move­ment march­ing in Swe­den in May; Breivik at his trial.

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