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Film / Utya: July 22

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"You'll never understand. At least try to listen."
Kaja talking to her mother and accidentally summarizing the impact of the movie .

Utøya 22. juli, also known as U: 22 July by Erik Poppe is a reenactment of the 2011 Norway Attacks (which happened on the island Utøya on 22. July 2011) from the perspective of the victims. Out of respect for the victims, the film features fictional characters instead of people actually there. The film is mostly portrayed from the POV of Kaja, an 18 year old girl, as she runs for her life while also trying to care for others amid the shooting. The film was shot in a single take with the exception of the footage of the Oslo bomb explosion. Note that the Berlinale take is not the same take that later came into regular cinema theaters, and there are subtle changes between them.

Beware of spoilers.


This story provides examples of:

  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: The film intersperses survival drama with quiet emotional scenes like the interaction of Kaja with the injured girl or Kaja and Magnus talking about their aspirations.
  • Adaptational Modesty: In the film, with the exception of Kaja using her jacket in her attempt to help the wounded girl, nobody of the victims sheds any clothing, and it's implied the little boy died because he kept his bright jacket. In reality, many of the victims stripped down to their underwear, either because their upper clothing was too bright, or because they attempted to swim away, or to wade in the shore rocks.
  • Adaptation Expansion: In the film, Kaja twice meets a young boy no more than 8-10 years or so, the second time finding him dead. In the real event, the youngest victim of the shooting was 14 years old. There was an 11-year old boy at the real shooting, but he was actually someone Breivik saw and let live. note 
  • Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole: The shot that killed Kaja could not have happened this way in reality. note 
    • The theatrical version rectifies this somewhat (albeit not completely) by changing the timing, but introduces another plot hole with the press helicopter appearing very early, raising the question of why the police didn't try to use it. In reality, it had only beat the police by a few minutes, too late for them to change plans.
  • Anyone Can Die: Given the nature of the film, it's a given. In particular it shows that no matter how clever and levelheaded they are, they can still die, and in a horrible way.
  • Asshole Victim: The (second) girl that didn't want Kaja to enter the hiding place she was in. Luckily, Magnus overruled her and let Kaja stay. The girl is killed off later.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: The terrorist is able to kill or maim lots of people, and seems unimpeded at the end of movie.
  • Bait-and-Switch: When Kaja does her Aside Comment in the opening scene, it only seems like she is talking to the audience. This is because there is no visual cue for us to know that she is in fact on the phone with her mum until she turns her head to reveal the earpiece. A common real-life phenomenon these days.
  • Based on a True Story: While the characters are fictional, they are based on experiences of the real survivors.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Some teenagers escape including Kaja's sister Emilie. Many die including Kaja herself.
  • Broken Aesop: Title Cards in the opening scene and the epilogue emphasize that the aim of the film is to show the danger of right-wing extremism. But since all Breivik's motives and his phrases (he was reportedly shouting "Die Marxists!" during his rampage) are cut from the film, there is nothing left to support this thesis.
  • Chekhov's Skill: In the beginning Emilie returns from swimming and says the water isn't too cold for her. In the end it's implied that Emilie swam to the mainland and got help. Unfortunately it was too late for Kaja.
  • Closed Circle: The victims are trapped on an island.
  • Composite Character: Kaja, whose story is composed from several Real Life survivors' accounts. Her death is freely invented.
  • Cradle of Loneliness: Kaja cradling the body of the blond girl.
  • Cruel Twist Ending: Two minutes before the 72 minutes time period that the Breivik attack lasted are up, Kaja and Magnus, while on the beach, notice a rescue boat coming in their direction. Kaja hesitates to escape since she wants to search for her sister Emilie. While Kaja and Magnus argue, a somewhat-distant shot is heard. After a split-second, Kaja collapses on the ground, apparently dead. Magnus runs to the boat, where it's revealed Emilie is in the boat. Worse, the timing and the fact that no further shots are heard (even when Magnus runs through the area where Kaja was hit) suggest that the attacker has surrendered immediately afterwards. If Kaja had done literally anything else - hid in the rocks till the end, run to the boat as soon she saw it - she'd be safely reunited with her sister at that moment.
  • Daylight Horror: During the film, the sunny, bright atmosphere builds an extreme contrast to the horrors unfolding before our eyes. This differs from reality as it rained heavily during the actual shooting.
    • The theatrical release downplays this as it is shot on a cloudy day, and the lack of light contributes to the depressing atmosphere.
  • Death by Adaptation: The little boy, whom Breivik actually spared and another was able to swim away safely.
  • Death Is Dramatic: The lengthy wounded girl's death scene, the horror we feel when Kaja discovers the corpses on the beach. Subverted with Kaja herself, whose death takes less than a second of a screen time, after which we switch to Magnus' escape plot. Again, the theatrical release rectifies this somewhat by giving Kaja her death scene, but it's still way short.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Kaja crosses it when she sees the corpses on the beach. One of them is a little boy whom Kaja directed into forest earlier.
  • Downer Beginning: the film opens with the footage of the Oslo bomb explosion.
  • Dramatic Slip: One girl falls and presumably breaks her ankle when running from the club house. Kaja slips too while running through the forest.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Her: Kaja. In a film where random characters have lengthy death scenes with lots of last words (wounded girl) or a long corpse scene to signify the horror of their death (little boy), Kaja gets neither. She is suddenly shot just before she can answer a silly line by Magnus, she appears OK at first, then keels over without as much as a sound. She gets NO last words, not even a Really Dead Montage. Worse, the camera itself betrays her - rather than stay with her in her last moments, it switches immediately to Magnus (who before that had, like 10 minutes of screen time) and concentrates on his escape, showing no more consideration for Kaja. Again the theatrical release rectifies this by giving Kaja a death scene with last words and making it the final culmination, but the death is still very sudden.
  • Dude, Not Funny!: When Magnus suggests Kaja to watch a cat video to cheer herself up, he is called out for this bad joke by another character.
  • Dudley Do-Right Stops to Help: Kaja when she stops her search for Emilie, to direct the little boy into the forest. Later she stays with the wounded girl, even as it becomes clear she cannot save her.
  • Dying for Symbolism: Kaja. Her death at the very end is a stand-in for those who died in the later phase of shooting, which Breivik could only continue for so long due to the police taking way too long (it was said that if they had reacted more coherent they could be at least 30 min sooner). This especially includes over ten people shot dead while hiding in the rocks on the southern shore. Of course it would be better if Kaja's death came about as a result from said shooting, as opposed to a Diabolus ex Machina in the movie.
    • In a more global sense, the attack on Utøya is presented as symbolic for downfall of center left movement and its non-aggressive, dialogue-based approach, which proved incapable of counteracting the violence-based far-right movement - on Utøya and elsewhere. In the press conference following the Berlinale premiere, the director repeatedly talked about how the film is about the danger of far right.
  • Failure Hero: Kaja. Everything she tries to do fails. The wounded girl that Kaja tries to save dies, the little boy whom she directed to the rocks also dies and her sister Emilie did not need rescue in the first place. Instead Emilie rescues others, and would have rescued Kaja if the latter hadn't gotten herself killed just before.
  • Foreshadowing: The phrase that Utøya is the "safest place on the world" is lifted from a documentation about the Utøya shooting, which uses the phrase as a title. The girl uttering the phrase dies in the final phase of the shooting. So does Kaja (though her story before is, as above, taken from survivors. In the theatrical release, Kaja foreshadows her death by showing that she neither expects nor actually wants to survive at that point.
  • From Bad to Worse: As the story progresses, the events take darker and darker turn. First, shots are heard and scared youngsters are running. Then some people are wounded. Then one wounded girl bleeds to death. Then Kaja discovers multiple corpses on the beach. And then Kaja herself dies.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Kaja can be rude. That doesn't mean she isn't heroic. This goes double for Emilie, who was indifferent about Oslo bombing, yet actually pulled a heroic deed.
  • The Greatest Story Never Told: A significant part of Kaja's story is this due to Kaja's death. ** Remember the wounded girl? Her parents will never find out about her last moments.
  • Gut Punch: The moment where the wounded girl dies. At this moment one understands that the tragedy is underway. The multiple corpses on the beach. And then Kaja's death.
  • Hand Gagging: Repeatedly, characters' mouths are covered by somebody to avoid them giving away their position by noises.
  • Hard Truth Aesop: There are no safe places left anymore. Tragedy can strike at any time, in any place. Very terrifying, but sadly true.
  • The Hero Dies: In the end Kaja's penchant for taking unnecessary risks and not caring (enough) for herself catches up with [[spoiler: her, leading to her being shot and presumably killed. ]]
  • Hope Spot:
    • When the teenagers see the helicopter coming; however one of then then points out it's press and not the police.
    • When Kaja and Magnus see the boat, which could get them off the island. Magnus and some others people indeed escape with the boat. Kaja is shot just before the boat comes.
  • If We Get Through This...:
    • The girl shot in the shoulder asks Kaja to tell her mother that she thought of her and that she loved her.
    • Kaja later hides with Magnus and the two start talking about what they would be doing if they were at home, and what kind of jobs they want in life. The theatrical edition somewhat subverts this by showing that Kaja doesn't really believe anything that she says.
  • I'm Cold... So Cold...: The wounded girl complains about freezing shortly before dying from her wound.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: The shot that killed Kaja instantly came from quite a distance.
  • Instant Death Bullet: Mostly averted, with wounds taking its toll slowly, but played straight with Kaja herself. Again, the theatrical release averts that with Kaja being hit by two shots, with the first letting her utter some last words, before the second then plays the trope straight.
  • Inverse Dialogue Death Rule: Inverted - the nameless wounded girl gets about 5 minutes of dying speech, Kaja herself gets less than a second, even a Really Dead Montage is denied to her as the plot continues. In the theatrical edition Kaja does get a little time to utter last words, and a Really Dead Montage, but still dies very quickly.
  • It's All My Fault: Kaja blames herself for every person she couldn't save.
  • Karma Houdini: The youngsters in the cavern who deny Kaja entry escape safely with help from Kaja's sister no less!!. This was done deliberately by the writers to show that they don't actually condemn those youngsters for their refusal to let Kaja in - they were simply in panic.
  • Killed Offscreen: The little boy, the girl who suggested to swim to mainland, Oda (the girl high in the rocks) and others.
  • Kill the Cutie: The wounded girl, the little boy, and in the end, Kaja herself.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall:
    • The very beginning of the film has Kaja look directly at the camera and say "You'll never understand. At least try to listen." Turns out she was talking to her mother on the phone, accidentally summarizing the impact of the movie while doing so.
    • Magnus mentions that he likes to become a celebrity or an actor.
  • Lovable Coward: Magnus.
  • Morality Kitchen Sink: The victims run the whole spectrum of morality. Kaja and Emilie are heroic. Magnus is a Lovable Coward who nevertheless tries to help. Other youngsters often do bad things out of panic, yet are still not presented as totally evil. The only one absolutely evil is the Terrorist.
  • Morton's Fork: The victims are trapped on an island, no evacuation is underway (unlike in reality) and there are no effective hiding places - the forest is too light, the rocks too open to really hide. You have only two choices: run from the place where shots are heard to some other place until you are eventually picked off, or swim hundreds of meters to the mainland through very cold water (despite summer) and either likely drown, or, if you jump in the water right before the shooter approaches, become an even easier target. The theatrical edition underscores the latter by showing a corpse floating in the water.
  • No Name Given:
    • The wounded girl (named so in the credits).
    • The Terrorist (also named so in the credits).
  • Nothing Is Scarier:
    • We only see the attacker twice, as a scary figure in the periphery.
    • At one point while Kaja sits in a tent, a silhouette walks by on the outside and she keeps completely still and quiet, until the person leaves. We don't know if it was the attacker or just another teenager escaping. The fact that they don't reveal it just makes it even creepier.
  • Not Quite Saved Enough: The little boy whom Kaja directs into the forest, only for him to be killed later. And in a sense, Kaja herself, surviving one dangerous situation after another, only to die in the end.
    • The theatrical version has a very direct example in the end where Kaja comes to the beach and stands completely in the open, sobbing loudly. Magnus appears and drags her to a more secluded location. She still gets shot despite this.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Swimming to the mainland (over 600 meters through cold seawater) is presented as nearly impossible, yet it's implied that Emilie, the main heroine's sister did this, got somebody with a boat to help, and returned with him to the island, despite all the danger.
  • One-Man Army: The terrorist, being able to induce an unimaginable carnage and forcing hundreds of people to Run or Die. Of course it's easy to be strong when your opponents are unarmed teenagers.
  • The Oner: With the exception of the opening footage showing the bombing in Oslo, the entire film is shot like this, to show in Real Time how the shooting played out for some of its victims and how long it lasted.
  • Parting Words Regret: Downplayed. Kaja and Emilie had a dispute before the attack which bears on Kaja's mind when she cannot reach her sister later.
  • Planning for the Future Before the End: We know that the girl with the shoulder wound is doomed once Kaja urges her to imagine herself at the mother's cabin by the sea.
  • Please Wake Up: Kaja cannot believe that the the injured girl has died and shakes her body in disbelieve.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Magnus.
  • Police Are Useless: From the perspective of the victims, the problem is not what the police do, but rather that no police appeared on the island for more than 70 minutes. Sadly this was Truth in Television - the ending credits point out that the police failed the victims by appearing way too late due to a long list of mishaps. Reportedly the terrorist himself was surprised it took so long. Trying to underscore this is also the reason so many deaths happen in the later stages of the movie including Kaja herself.
  • Reality Has No Soundtrack: The film foregoes the help of music to underline dramatic moments for the sake of realism. During the Silent Credits we only hear ambient sounds of the boat's motor and waves while the survivors rush towards safety.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: The victims behaving in non-optimal ways (the little boy keeping his jacket, Kaja standing in the open) seem like the writers just handed them the Idiot Ball, but this is based on reality. As the book "One of Us" by Asne Seierstad reveals, many of the victims chose inadequate hiding, and when discovered just stayed in place waiting to be shot, not even trying to run away. When the real police finally arrived, many youngsters mistook them for Breivik's accomplices - and while some just hid deeper, others actually left their hiding place and asked to be shot, having abandoned all hope.
  • Real Time: The attack on Utøya is given in real time, so 72 minutes of film rely to 72 minutes of attack. Even if one takes Oslo bomb footage into account, the film still covers only three hours.
  • Recycled Premise: The film can be described as Cloverfield BASED ON A REAL SHOOTING, or as Friday the 13th (1980) BASED ON A REAL SHOOTING (and it's also Friday!).
  • Run or Die: The victims, being unarmed and mentally unprepared for a terrorist assault, can't do anything against the terrorist who can rapidly hit them at large distances (> 20 meters), and is protected by a helmet and a bulletproof vest, making stones useless. This is exacerbated by the fact that people attending the Utøya camp were mostly non-aggressive teenagers. They can only run.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Kaja attempts not just to survive, but also to help others. Unfortunately, all her heroic attempts are for nothing. She stops to help a wounded girl and bandages her wound - but the internal bleeding continues and the girl dies. She directs a small boy into the forest - but near the end she finds out he is murdered. Finally, she leaves her hiding place to search for her sister, then hesitates when there is an opportunity to escape the island by boat - and is shot and killed mere moments before the boat arrives and her sister is there. The only result of her selfless actions is getting herself uselessly killed. To top it off, in the Berlinale release even the POV camera abandons her in the end - rather than concentrate on her in her last moments (as was the case with every other victim before), we just switch to the Plucky Comic Relief character who safely escapes by boat, with the film showing no more consideration for her.
  • Stay with Me Until I Die: The injured girl pleads for Kaja to stay by her side.
  • Surprisingly Sudden Death: Despite the nature of the film, it's played out in a way that makes you think Kaja will either survive to tell the tale, or alternatively, that if she dies, then her death will build the climax of the entire film, given that we continuously follow her POV and her story is based of the accounts of Real Life survivors of the event, only for Kaja to be suddenly and unceremoniously shot at the very end, with the camera not even lingering on her body but immediately leaving her and switching to Magnus. Somewhat averted in the theatrical release, where we do get Kaja's last moments to see and she somewhat "calls" her death on herself by clearly not caring about safety
  • Tempting Fate:
    • Just minutes before the attack, Kaja tells her mother that Utøya is the "safest place in the world".
    • One of the girls deciding to swim to the mainland justifies her decision to leave others behind with "I'm gonna live!". Kaja later finds her corpse on the beach.
  • Third Act Stupidity: Kaja. See Too Dumb to Live below.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Tough Kaja and her feminine sister Emilie.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Towards the end of the the movie, Kaja, who until then was quite levelheaded, suddenly leaves her hiding place and goes to the open beach. Upon coming there she discovers four dead people, who all were clearly shot just a couple minutes ago. Rather than retreating or finding a new hiding place, she proceeds to argue loudly with Magnus, while standing near the corpses, completely in the open. Predictably, she gets shot and it's a wonder that Magnus isn't killed as well. The whole scene creates an impression that the director was frantically searching for a way to kill her off. Partly justified with Kaja reaching her Despair Event Horizon and not acting sensible anymore.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Kaja. Between what is easy and what is right, she always chooses what is right, even accepting being denied place in a safe cavern without a fight. She doesn't make it to the end.
  • Tragic Hero: Kaja's desire to help others, including her sister, combined with her lacking any skills or knowledge useful during a shooting, results in her failing to help others, falling more and more in despair and dying due to a stupid mistake on her part, just before she could be rescued.
  • Troubled Fetal Position: The young boy has assumed this pose when Kaja finds him by the tents.
  • Uncertain Doom: We see Kaja going down after the shot, apparently dead, but we don't stay to see if she died or was merely wounded. In reality, most of those with a single wound survived. The theatrical release averts this by Kaja being hit with two shots, but survival is still a possibility The man in the boat is also wounded and we do not know if he makes it.
  • Villains Act, Heroes React: The whole plot is about people trying to escape a shooting, and their actions are mostly a response to what the shooter does.
  • The Voiceless: The terrorist never utters a single word. Notable because in reality, Breivik was talking a lot, sometimes to bait his victims out of their hiding places (he was wearing a police uniform), sometimes to mock them, and sometimes just to swear.
  • Would Hurt a Child: The terrorist at some point kills a boy no older than 10 and teenagers are fair game anyway. Notably, in Real Life Breivik at least spared the preteen boy he found.
  • Writer on Board: Repeatedly:
    • The film repeatedly points out that the police and other authorities failed the youngsters, be it pointing out that the press helicopter got to there before the police, or by the text in the end. It also shows how helpless the youngsters must have felt (sometimes overplaying the situation), and that while they not always behaved optimally ( Kaja demonstrating Third Act Stupidity comes to mind), that doesn't mean they were stupid or cowardly - they just didn't know what to do, unlike the authorities, which really should react faster.
    • The film goes to great length to draw the film's entire attention to the victims and deny it to the attacker. The latter gets no lines, no name, and no platform to express his reasons.