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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Oslo, August 31st

A short series of blogs focusing on various aspects of drug addiction as portrayed in films.


Oslo poster

Introduction

For my second blog about drug addiction as portrayed in films, I would highly recommend Oslo, August 31st, a Norwegian film subtitled in English, directed by Joachim Trier and released in 2011. The film focuses on the process of recovery from drug addiction and touches on the difficulties of reintegration back into a community after time spent in an inpatient treatment unit. Widely acclaimed, and with a fantastic central performance by Anders Danielson Lie who plays Anders, the film follows him for 24 hours of authorised leave as he travels to Oslo for a job interview where he also meets up with some old friends and family. It is a subtle portrait of his internal thought processes as he appraises his place in the world without drugs and reflects on why he has ended up facing the very real challenges of finding intimacy and employment at the age of 34 after squandering his potential for success as a young intellectual middle class adult.

 


The Film

The film opens with a collage of personal home-movie memories narrated by people who grew up in Oslo. Then we see Anders draw the curtains in a room overlooking a city before watching him walk through woodland to a lake where he unsuccessfully attempts to drown himself. He returns, soaking wet, to the drug rehabilitation centre situated in the countryside on the outskirts of Oslo. After making good progress in conquering his heroin addiction, Anders is granted leave to visit Oslo for a job interview at a magazine publisher. Before his appointment, he phones his ex girlfriend and leaves a message on her phone asking to have contact with her again. He visits a previously close friend and peer, Thomas, who is now married with children and is a successful academic. The encounter seems to highlight just how much Anders has lost in terms of his purpose in life when compared to the achievements of his old friend. However, Thomas confesses that his existence isn’t quite as wonderful as it first appears which raises the issue of what actually constitutes happiness in life for these old friends now that they must accept greater responsibility as they age. Thomas invites him to an old friend’s birthday party that evening but Anders declines. Having had no reply from his ex girlfriend, he tries phoning her again and leaves another message.

The job interview acts as a pivotal point in the film, as it reveals Anders’ poor self-esteem and lack of confidence in his journalistic abilities. Forced to reveal his drug addiction as a cause for the gap in his CV, Anders doesn’t wait to hear the response from his interviewer and storms out, as if uncovered as a fraud, using the experience as supporting evidence for the hopelessness of his life now. He arranges to meet his sister in a cafe but finds her female partner there in her place. He demands a key to their parents’ home, which she reluctantly provides him, but he is hurt that his sister did not come to see him and he leaves the café angrily. He later decides to go to the birthday party after all only to find that Thomas and his wife haven’t turned up. At the party he encounters an ex-lover and much temptation in the form of freely available alcohol, which he starts to drink. He meets a young woman and follows her and two others to a club in the city, followed by a night spent ‘on the town’, although his mind seems resolutely fixed on his ex girlfriend and his feelings of alienation. He then acquires some illegal drugs. In the final scene, Anders visits his parent’s home where he makes a crucial decision.

 

Relevance to the field of Mental Health

Oslo, August 31st examines the very important issue of how a recovering drug addict reintegrates into society after the initial stages of treatment and the maintenance of abstinence for a short period of time. By focusing on 24 hours in Anders’ life as he attempts to reconnect with his friends and community and to find meaningful employment, it offers a closer examination of his inner thought processes that highlights the various areas of difficulty a recovering addict may encounter. The emptiness, hopelessness and suicidal intent in Anders is well portrayed and would make an excellent case study to teach about the diagnosis of depression and suicidal risk in those recovering from drug addiction. But the film also offers a view on the changed relationships that may result when an individual has betrayed the trust of those close to them as a result of their addictive patterns of behaviour. It shows the ease with which Anders can form a new superficial relationship but actually craves forgiveness, understanding and acceptance from those who he perhaps hurt the most. It is the portrayal of just this reality that emerges slowly through the film and makes viewing it such a powerful experience. 

A useful publication that might enhance an educational viewing of Oslo, August 31st is freely available at the American National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) website and is called Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (3rd Edition revised in Dec 2012).

* More information about Oslo, August 31st can be found at IMDB as can a short trailer.

* Oslo, August 31st can be purchased from amazon.co.uk.

* Minds on Film is written by Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr Joyce Almeida


You can now follow Minds on Film on Twitter @psychfilm

 

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About this blog

Minds on Film is a monthly blog that explores psychiatric conditions and mental health issues as portrayed in a selection of readily available films.

Please note that this blog may contain plot spoilers. Any views expressed are purely my own.

Dr Joyce Almeida

Dr Almeida is a Consultant Psychiatrist working in the private sector in the UK.

 

You can now follow Minds on Film on Twitter @psychfilm