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Struggling with Shooting Massacres and Insanity
by Shelly Schoeneshoefer

Terrorist activities happen around the world but not in Norway or so they thought. On July 22, 2011, one of the most shocking events in Norwegian history happened which served as a wakeup call to change their security in the future. The film UTØYA 22.JULI (U-JULY 22) begins with documentary footage where rightwing extremist Andres Behring Brevik planted a bomb that killed eight people and injured another 209. At that point it is unclear who was responsible as chaos reigned, keeping the police busy trying to clarify this horrible tragedy. The next part of the film moves to the island where a group of some 500 hundred young people are attending a Worker Youth League (AUF) summer camp.

Director Erik Poppe begins to roll the camera and in a 72-minute single take follows the viewpoint of 19-year-old Kaja (Andrea Berntzen) through the following events. We see her, her sister and her friends and, as the circle widens, the spectrum of people come into the eye of the camera. At first we feel their happiness, then their confusion, then fear, and finally all other thoughts which are evoked when being hunted down by this rightwing extremist who is only heard but never seen on camera.

From the beginning we see our reference point Kaja and know that she is highly responsible and very much integrated in the organizational team. She is searching for her disorganized fun-loving sister who just went for a swim. As they argue about their purpose for being there, we clearly see the difference between the sisters. One is competitive and wants to achieve a lot in her life whereas the other one feels overshadowed by her sister. They separate and soon Kaja meets others for lunch. That’s when they hear gunshots and with this hallowing sound, they scatter like frightened deer into the woods, hiding between trees and under rocks along the coast. The film shows that these kids had very little coverage on the island, making it easy for the heavily armed gunman to eliminate his victims, killing 69 and injuring another 110 before the police came to the rescue. In the footage we hear someone shouting that the press is hovering above in a helicopter but can’t help. Where are the police? We feel their desperation, their hope of a rescue, their anguish, their despair and finally their fear of death. The shots were at first far away but get closer and closer as Kaja sees people dying before her eyes.

The film emotionally affects us all as we think about all the people who have ever been a victim or witness of a shooting massacre. There are two elements that have to be changed in society. One is gun control, which in the US, is out of control. It is so obvious that it is a problem but somehow no one has the guts to stop it. The second one is mental health issues. Andres Behring Brevik was first diagnosed as having paranoid schizophrenia, but is now believed to have both antisocial and narcissistic personality disorders. He is currently in prison, unlike many of the other criminals who usually end up dead after their crazy killing spree.

Steven Soderbergh’s film UNSANE illustrates exactly the opposing view that we need in our current society. Sawyer Valentini, a young woman (Claire Foy) flies half way across the country to start life anew and interviews for a new job. She is suffering some anxiety and decides to go to a therapist. During the conversation the therapist decides that she is at risk of hurting herself and commits her to the mental institution against her will. Before long, she is forced to strip, take pills and live in a co-ed dorm room. Not only do her fellow inmates push her emotionally so that she decides to fight back, which only gets her in more trouble, but an ex-boyfriend David Strine (Joshua Leonard), a stalker, shows up on the scene. The film tries to point out the fact that private mental institutions are in the practice of forcing people to commit them into the clinic and then make them stay until their insurance runs out. We see people die but don’t care about them. We see her struggle with stalkers and know she will survive since she is a fighter. By the end of the film we really don’t feel anything except that we know she will continue on even if she is still mentally disturbed. What is this film trying to convey to us?

In 55 Steps (Eleanor & Colette) Billie August, with actresses Helen Bonham Carter and Hilary Swank, tells the story of Eleanor Riese, a paranoid schizophrenic, who won a legal battle against the establishment to have the right to say if she takes medication or not. With background, I found the portrait of the mental institutions that Steven Soderbergh was illustrating, completely outdated and ridiculous. It’s a shame that he has decided to make this horror film out of the mental health institution, which includes a stalker to boot, especially in a time period where we need to promote mental health care considering all the terrible history of crazy gun-shooting incidences in America today. It is only one part of the puzzle in the recurring problem, which would make a better film then him explaining how good it is to be able to make an entire film with your phone and how easy it is to play with perspective. I actually could not understand why the Berlinale chose this film to be seen at all. It just was not in the same caliber as the other films at the festival.