Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 26, 2018

July 22; Oklahoma City

Filed under: Fascism,Film — louisproyect @ 8:46 pm

Within ten minutes or so of the press screening for “July 22”, a narrative film about Anders Behring Breivik’s mass murder of young social democrats on the island of Utoya seven years ago on that very date, the narrative style was so unique and so effective that I was sure that this powerful film was made by the same man who made “United 93”. Like “United 93”, which told the story of the 9/11 hijacking  on the one plane that failed to hit its target, “July 22” is an understated, documentary-like account of an incident that lends itself to melodrama. Paul Greengrass, the British director and screenwriter for both films, does not make movies that deliver cheap thrills. Instead, you will get a more intense experience for the simple reason that it is more lifelike.

As the film begins, we see the crosscutting of scenes with Breivik (Anders Danielsen Lie) assembling the weapons he will need to launch a one-man war on “Cultural Marxism” and his target, the young people singing leftist folk songs around a campfire, in a meeting to discuss politics or playing soccer. You get the same sense of impending doom that was dramatized in “United 93”, a film that I panned upon first seeing but have grown to appreciate after further viewings on cable. Greengrass made little attempt in “United 93” to explain what led the hijackers to such extreme measures and follows suit in “July 22”. We never see any flashback explaining what turned Breivik into a killer but should know enough by now about the white supremacists on the rise everywhere to know it does not matter that much. Unfortunately it is ubiquitous. Clearly, he understood only a documentary could have unraveled the evolution of Salafist or neo-Nazi terrorism and that a narrative film was only charged with the task of creating powerful human drama. On that basis, he has succeeded admirably.

Most of you are probably aware of Breivik’s attack at Utoya but that was actually the second act on that bloody day. He began by detonating a bomb inside a van in front of the building where Norway’s Prime Minister had an office. It killed 8 people in a prelude to the massacre that would take place in an hour or so. He used the same ingredients that Timothy McVeigh used in his terror attack on an office building in Oklahoma City and for about the same reason: to launch a one-man war against the left. Dressed in a police uniform, Breivik showed up at a pier on the mainland near Utoya and put in a call to be ferried to the island to provide security for the young people. Since Norway was on high alert after the bombing, the ferry boat pilot assumed he was legitimate. But when the camp director and security met him when he got off the boat, they became suspicious after he could not answer questions about his credentials. This led him to kill his first two victims.

Next Breivik roams the island shooting the unarmed and frantic teens, taking the lives eventually of 69 campers. We share the horror of a group of about six young people who are clinging to a rocky ledge halfway between a cliff at the edge of the water and the shore below. Before long, Breivik spots them and opens fire as they run panic-stricken along the beach. Two are brothers: Viljar and Torje Hanssen, whose mother is the Labour Party mayor of a town in the far north. Viljar, the older brother, is felled by five bullets from Breivik’s automatic rifle. As his brother kneels over him in both grief and fright, Viljar tells him to run for his life.

Viljar is the hero of the film, even though he is not an action hero in a drama that could not possibly supply one. We see him going through an agonizing recovery that included repeated surgeries that stopped short of extracting the bullet fragments close to his brainstem. The head surgeon worried that in trying to remove them, his patient’s brain would be even more damaged than it already was, if not prove fatal. In fact, Viljar was given the bad news that a shifting fragment could end his life at any moment.

Viljar is played by Jonas Strand Gravli and will certainly get my nomination for best actor of 2018, especially in portraying the real life efforts of the young man to become mobile enough to testify against Breivik in the courtroom. Like everybody else in the cast, he is Norwegian even though he, like the rest, speak English. This was an odd choice by Greengrass and perhaps calculated to avoid the subtitles that are the bane of so many people.

Most of the film crosscuts once again between Breivik’s interaction with his lawyer, a Norwegian social democrat, and Viljar’s heroic efforts to make a life for himself under Job-like conditions. We know about the 69 fatalities of July 22, 2011 but a lot less about the 209 who were injured. As so often is the case, especially with automatic rifles, the wounds can inflict great pain through the remainder of the victim’s life.

In the press notes, Greenglass explains why he made this film:

I originally wanted to make a film about the migrant crisis. And I spent a fair amount of time researching what was happening in places like Lampedusa in southern Italy, and the realities of people trafficking.

But the more I worked on it, the more obvious it became that fear of migration, together with continuing economic stagnation, was driving a profound change in our politics.

The door was being opened to political extremism, across Europe. Across the West. With dangerous consequences I fear…

That’s what lead me to make this film – because Anders Breivik and Norway shows us the consequences of this process in dramatic terms, and in ways relevant to all of us, wherever we live.

Breivik saw himself – in his extreme narcissism – as raising the battle standard of extreme right-wing rebellion across the West.

But the way the people of Norway responded after the attacks, which is what our film is really about – the way politicians, lawyers and most importantly those families caught up in the violence responded – can inspire all of us with their dignity and their tenacious commitment to democracy.

“July 22” opens on Netflix and in theatres on October 10. Look for its arrival then.

Suffice it to say that the same socio-economic conditions that drove Breivik to carry out mass murder in 2011 exist today in the USA. Furthermore, they were also present when the American counterpart of Anders Behring Breivik carried out a similar attack on April 19, 1995. I speak here, of course, about Timothy McVeigh whose bombing of a government building in Oklahoma City killed 168 people and injured another 680.

To understand what drove him to such a murderous assault, I strongly recommend the documentary “Oklahoma City” that I watched a couple of months ago as a screener for the 2017 NYFCO awards meeting. Since it is now streaming on Netflix and on Youtube, don’t hesitate to view a film that will help you understand the neo-Nazi movements of twenty to thirty years ago that were much more lethal in their intentions than any that have shown up in Charlottesville or elsewhere more recently.

Unlike the followers of Richard Spencer et al, these groups were organized specifically as militias and were ready to open fire on anybody who stood in their way. However, McVeigh’s terrorist attack was beyond the scope of what was on their political agenda at the time just as was the case in Norway seven years ago. Indeed, an ultraright leader called to testify in Breivik’s defense described him as a mad man. Very few people considered McVeigh as a hero, except himself. As homicidal narcissists, McVeigh and Breivik stand alone.

Most of the groups that were in McVeigh’s orbit have faded from the scene but at the time they were involved in major confrontations with the authorities. We see footage of shootouts between the cops and various ultrarightists that predictably led to the latter being mowed down and consequently attaining martyr status for their supporters. McVeigh identified closely with the militia leaders under siege and saw every gun duel as proof that the government was the enemy of the people. In 1992, McVeigh identified closely with Aryan Nation member Randy Weaver who was in a stand-off with ATF officers surrounding his heavily fortified home in Ruby Ridge, Idaho. Weaver, who had failed to show up in court for a firearms violation, saw himself as above the law basically. The view that the state was illegitimate was widespread among ranchers and survivalists in the Northwest, with the latest occurrence taking place over Ammon Bundy’s armed occupation of federal land two years ago.

But it was Waco that pushed McVeigh over the edge. In 1993, the religious cult Branch Davidians were suspected of stockpiling weapons and once again the ATF arrived to arrest its leader David Koresh, who became a martyr to the ultraright just like Randy Weaver.

After witnessing the siege turn deadly, mostly against the cult members, McVeigh decided to begin preparing for his revenge against an out-of-control federal government. Obviously, we are in a much different situation today. Instead of Janet Reno and Bill Clinton serving as Satanic figures to American white supremacists, we have a White House that is hailed as its champion. The victims are not people seen as advancing the interests of a socialist or liberal state such as young social democratic campers or government workers in Oklahoma City. Instead, they are the immigrants that both the Norwegian and American governments are using as a scapegoat. Today, Norway is ruled by the Conservative Party whose leader Erna Solberg warns that there is “no free entry into Europe”. For those hoping that the USA can become more like a Scandinavian country, this is not good news nor is it good news coming out of Sweden that the Sweden Democrats (a misnomered neo-Nazi party) is on the upswing. Ultimately, the best way to confront the ultraright is by drawing clear class lines and fighting for social justice by any means necessary. If that sounds like extremism, that’s to be expected in a period where moderation only leads to further erosions of constitutional and human rights.

 

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