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.