The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

The disturbing thought: “This is like a movie”

with 24 comments

It was late Friday afternoon and I had just arrived at home when I got the first fragments of news from Norway about the terror attack. Whatever remained of my illusion of Scandinavia being a safe spot in a chaotic world, the real life version of The Shire, was shattered.

The first reports were bad and disturbing.  “A bomb went off in Oslo, WTF? Hopefully something like the suicide bomber in Stockholm who killed himself but nobody else”. Then it turned into shock: “The government quarters look like Beirut during the war, seven people dead, is this for real?” But when we finally realized the extent and the cruelness of the following killing of teenagers at a summer camp, I ran out of words. It was just too horrible to grasp.

All of the weekend, I’ve tried to think of something different. I went to a training class, but when it ended I realized that I had been so absentminded that I couldn’t   recall what kind of exercises we had done. Had there been push-ups and sit-ups? I had no idea.

I buried my head into the Harry Potter series I’m currently reading a second time, my love for Hogwarts reignited by the latest movie. But time after another I found myself lost, unable to tell what had been going on the last few pages I’d read.

“It’s like a movie”

What passes through my mind right now is far from coherent. There are no conclusions, no resolutions, only images. And the nagging thought: “it’s like a movie”.

Somehow this idea disturbs be because it feels as if I’m reducing the real pain, the real suffering by making this connection. This is reality and it can’t be shut down.

But as I see hear the testimonies from the survivors who got away, it all plays up in my head like scenes in the movie I guess will be made about those events at some point. (I wouldn’t be surprised if someone already is on the project, but maybe it’s just me being a cynic.)

The 15 year old girl hiding under the stone where the murderer was standing, executing her friends. Cut. Another girl who got away by playing dead, lying for an hour on a dead body, two corpses on top of her. Her cell phone calling and calling, while she couldn’t answer, not to be discovered. Cut. The guy who was trying to hide with 30 of his friends on a beach. Only five get away from it alive. Cut. The deeds of heroism. People coming to their rescue, going with boats back and forward to the island, picking up as many as they could from the water while the bullets were passing over their heads. Cut. The helpless parents in a different part of the country, terrified, unable to call their children since it could give away their hiding spot. Praying and praying that their daughter or son was one of those who got away. Cut. The monster who did it, standing in his police uniform, shouting to the children that it’s safe, that they should come to him, just to execute them the next second.

All those images. The movie keeps running in my head. I really don’t want to think of it as a film and still I can’t help doing it, just like I did at the time of 9/11. I ask myself why. Maybe it’s an act of self defense, my mind figuring out a way to cope and to escape.

The emergency exit
When I see a movie where there’s too much violence for me to stomach, there’s always an option for me to break the illusion. I can think of what it looks like at the place where they’re shooting the scene, I can think of the microphones, the lights, the cameraman, the director, all those people assembled on the spot. I can think of what the actor who plays the murderer does after the scene is ended, how he puts on a different face and turns into a nice chap. And I can think of a different score. Put the Benny Hill signature into your head and there’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s not what I normally do as I’m watching movies, but it’s always an available alternative, like an emergency exit.

There is no emergency exit from the terror attacks in Norway. But if you see it like a film, you can pretend there is.

And I suppose telling the story over and over again, from different angles and – yes, even making movies about it eventually – is the only way we can deal with a public trauma of this scale. I remember seeing United 93. For how sad it was, it was always somehow soothing, helping me to grasp what has happened. Making movies about tragic events doesn’t necessarily have to be about making a profit on the grief and disaster of other human beings. It can also be a part of the healing process.

The movie about July 22, the day that Scandinavia never will forget, is playing in my head. More fractured, chaotic and terrifying than anything I’ve seen on the cinema screen.

Written by Jessica

July 24, 2011 at 10:53 am

Posted in Uncategorized

24 Responses

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  1. Another day where I rise to greet the news in disbelief, where I search for other news reports that will prove the 1st to be wrong.

    It was hard enough trying to explain why Bin Laden’s photo, with celebratory photos was front page just a little while back to my 5 year old… how do I explain that the potential for terror is never ending.

    Do I shield him from the movie images and the reality images, or immerse him in them in the hope that he will be immune to the horror?


    July 24, 2011 at 2:03 pm

  2. I honestly don’t know the answer to that one. I figure I tried to take the middle road in relation to my children; I didn’t force the news upon them, overinforming them about stuff they didn’t ask for. But I didn’t shield them either, trying to keep them unknowing at any cost. Like on 11/9, when they were at kindergarten, I told them briefly about what had happened, letting them see the pictures of the airplane. I answered whatever questions they had the best I could. But as far as I remember they showed very little interest to it, living in their own little world, and as I saw that, I let it stay that way.
    I can’t tell if this was the right or the wrong way to deal with it, but as far as I can tell it went OK. My daughter always had for more nightmares from a scene of a man getting stuck in a carwash from a Swedish comedy that she happened as a small child than she had from watching the real news.


    July 24, 2011 at 4:06 pm

  3. Right now I am reading most news I see of what happened in Norway with skepticism. As usual, everyone seems to have a slightly different take on it.

    I can say, however, that I hate religion even a little more now.


    July 24, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    • The situation is still far from clear and what we’ve learned so far the ideas behind the deed seem to be very mixed up and confusing. But the deeds speak for themselves. Regardless of motives, it’s the face of pure evil. And it’s sickening.


      July 24, 2011 at 11:36 pm

  4. This was a beautiful piece. Thank you for writing it.

    Corey Atad

    July 24, 2011 at 6:31 pm

  5. Things like these will continue to happen from time to time. All we can do is try to minimize the damage that one person can do. How did he get his weapons? Surely with only a knife the damage would have been less. A few years ago a crazy person entered a child care and started stabbing children. Luckily he did not have access to firearms or the damage would have been worse.

    And the movie Elephant comes to mind again. It’s about the Columbine shootings and it tries to understand why anyone would do something like this.


    July 24, 2011 at 11:56 pm

    • As far as I can understand it, it’s not all that hard to get access at least to bombing tools. He used fertilizers and pretended that he had started to grow vegetables in grande scale to get them. And the weapons, well… he was a hunter. The thing is that if we want to have an open society as we have, we can’t guarantee that noone ever will get access to tools for killing. But it sucks. It’s such a high price we’re paying for our openess. And yet… somehow I think it’s the way we should contiue. I don’t want a society with more of superveillance through cameras etc.


      July 25, 2011 at 12:18 am

  6. I think movies, and culture and stories in general, are important for us to make sense of the world and ourselves. The “movie-reference” has happened for me too when looking at the pictures – or like yesterday, when talking with friends, someone suddenly says “damn, what happened at Utøya, if it was a movie script they would have refused it as too bloody, this is like Battlefield Royale with only one guy armed”. And this was a pretty close event for the people in my little group, all of us knew someone who were at the island, one had been on the phone with her best friend while he was running for his life believing he was going to die etc. The movie reference came in-between talking about a friend of a friend who was not yet found, but was observed shot.

    I guess bottom line what I am trying to say is that I agree with you – we need culture to make sense of cruel things like this. Movies are not just making money, movies are also part of how we make sense of.. well, everything, really.


    July 25, 2011 at 12:28 am

    • I’m so sorry to hear that you’re so close to the event, having friends or friends of friends who were there. I don’t have anything to say that feels adequat. All I can offer is a warming drink and a hug.
      Thank you for sharing. And I agree with you. It would have sounded just too much as a movie script before this actually happened. Just like 9/11 did.


      July 25, 2011 at 12:48 am

      • Hugs and a drink are perfect comfort, thanks 🙂

        There is also something movie-like about how we watch this in a kind of real time, I think. I remember watching TV on 9/11 when the second plane hit the twin towers. This time it was much more twitter/facebook, but still. The first blast in Oslo, they ask people to go easy on the cell phone net and so facebook status updates all over the place so we all could tell our friends we were OK. One friend explained that he was safe from the blast, as he was on Utøya that day. Then the 2 or 3 hours wait for his next update, which luckily came (with a “my mobile phone died from water when I swam, someone who has my mother’s number please call her and say I’m alive”).

        (Not that movies are in a real-realtime or anything, just that it feels different than reading the newspaper. The “it happens now” is somehow both more real and more movie-like, if that makes any sense).


        July 25, 2011 at 1:40 am

        • Agreed. And I think this somehow changes the way we’re copying with it, dealing with it. Before the social media instant reporting news about catastrophes were filtered through professonal journalists, who put together coherent stories, helped us to interprate and understand. Now we get everything by ourselfs, right from the sources. Everyone his own reporter sort of. For good and for bad I suppose.


          July 25, 2011 at 10:06 am

  7. I’m always shocked to hear something like that. Not on idiots being idiots. There were worse idiots, like the one who followed the order of a DOG to kill people.

    What really shocks me is the complete inability of the people to defend themselves. No one attempted to jump on him, to throw him a big stone or anything. Like sheeps at the butcher.


    July 25, 2011 at 9:11 am

    • Well we don’t quite know all the details about what happened there, so it’s hard to tell, it will only be speculations. But considering the weapon he had and how he used it, it seems to me that the only reasonable thing to do was to flee and try to hide, just like they did. They didn’t stand a chance.


      July 25, 2011 at 10:07 am

    • I am not sure where the ‘nobody tried to stop him’ is from. Like the friend of a friend I referred to above? From what we have been told he was shot trying to stop the guy (thus many witnesses who tells us he was shot). But he is missing and his name not released publicly, which might be why they have not told this story yet. We also know that the first killed was the grown-up caretaker of the place? Doing what? We don’t know yet. Basically the first stories we have are the ones from those who ran, because they survived. But we know he had gathered 2-300 to a meeting, in a room that only have two normal size doors and otherwise windows to escape through, and one of the doors would have been next to the killer. That he ‘only’ initially killed about 20% of those in that room suggests some non-sheep action happened.

      Bottom line: it is perhaps a little early to conclude that noone tried to stop him.


      July 25, 2011 at 10:55 am

      • That one was from Syrien (some very old signature that was stored in this system apparently, sorry about that!)


        July 25, 2011 at 11:35 am

        • Also, not sure if you can make sense of this in Google Translate or something, but the guard on the island was killed trying to stop the gunman. (the story is focused around him being the steph brother of the crown princess)


          July 25, 2011 at 11:46 am

          • And now I am going to somehow fix my avatar issue 🙂


            July 25, 2011 at 11:46 am

            • @Syrien: No problem Syrien, I know it’s you hiding behind the mazikeen signature. 🙂

              On topic: yes, I saw that story about the policeman too. My impression is that there were many, many people doing heoric things out on the island. Saving other people’s lives. Or trying to stop him.


              July 25, 2011 at 11:49 am

  8. It’s not an accident that you find yourself thinking “this is like a movie.” It’s how news is presented to us these days, in a narrative style with lots of character beats and tailored quotes. One of the things that scares me most in the modern world is people not being able to really tell the difference between fiction, stories adapted from fiction, reality TV, and the real world ;/

    This was a terrible incident. All those young lives.


    July 31, 2011 at 10:03 am

    • It gets creepy, definitely. And blurred. He seems to have mentioned his appreciation for the von Trier movie Dogville, even suggesting he’s got some kind of inspiration from it, which of course has saddened the director of it immensly. Sometimes fans are the least thing you want, if they’re of this kind.


      August 8, 2011 at 9:18 pm

  9. For those who can read Norwegian, a text with a discussion about a possible Utøya movie, using amongst others Gus Van Sants’ Elephant as examples on how it can be done.


    August 1, 2011 at 2:02 pm

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