One of the things I most enjoy in life is traveling to different countries and eras through the filmmaker’s lens.
In 1990, at the Denver International Film Festival, I saw Rojo Amanecer, or Red Dawn, which told the story of the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre in Mexico City from the point of view of a family that lived in one of the apartments facing Tlatelolco Square during the shooting. “The film, Amaya Rachelle Elizindok writes, “became one of the biggest hits in what’s since been dubbed The New Mexican Cinema Movement.”
The entire film takes place inside one apartment. It does not end well. Afterwards, I was overwhelmed by sadness, unable to speak or move while the credits rolled and rolled and rolled. Same with everyone in the theatre. Lifeless, we sat perfectly still for several minutes.
Twenty-six years later, I felt the same after finishing One of Us. Completely drained. Heart-broken for the families of the seventy-seven people who were killed. The word “sad” doesn’t do justice to Asne Seierstad’s story of the 2011 massacre in Norway. An entirely new word is needed. Seierstad’s account is comprehensive, thorough, disciplined, and intimate. A remarkable work of journalism. It’s a disciplined telling of the story in the sense that she describes the events and the psychiatrists’ differing analyses, only offering her perspective on Breivik after 522 pages.
Wrapped within the tragedy are innumerable social scientific questions concerning child development, family dysfunction, interpersonal relationships, video gaming, mental illness, the media, violence, policing, and criminal justice. An Abnormal Psychology professor would only need this text.
Seierstad’s first and last words were most memorable. The first are from an epilogue where she quotes Hjalmar Soderberg, the author of a 1905 novel, Doktor Glas:
We want to be loved; failing that, admired; failing that, feared; failing that, hated and despised. At all costs we want to stir up some sort of feelings in others. Our soul abhors a vacuum. At all costs it longs for contact.
And from page 523:
One of Us is a book about belonging, a book about community. . . . This is also a book about looking for a way to belong and not finding it. The perpetrator ultimately decided to opt out of the community and strike at it in the most brutal of ways.
That view is echoed by Karl Ove Knausgaard in his essay “Inside the warped mind of Anders Breivik“. Knausgaard writes:
What can prompt a relatively well-functioning man to do something so horrific in the midst of a stable, prosperous and orderly country? Is it possible to ever comprehend it?
Based on Breivik’s political rhetoric and his self-understanding, and also on his chosen targets – Regjeringskvartalet and the ruling party’s youth organisation – it is natural to compare his act with the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City, where Timothy McVeigh, in an anti-government protest, parked a truck bomb outside a federal building and murdered 168 people. Indeed, Breivik took the Oklahoma City bombing as a model for the first part of his attack. However, almost everything else regarding Breivik and his crime points away from the political and the ideological and towards the personal. He made himself a sort of military commander’s uniform, in which he photographed himself before the crime; he consistently referred to a large organisation, of which he claimed to be a prominent member but which does not exist; in his manifesto he interviews himself as if he were a hero; and the impression this gives is of a person who has erected a make-believe reality, in which his significance is undisputed. The way in which he carried out his crime, and the way his thoughts contextualised it, resembles role-playing, rather than political terrorism. The solitude this implies is enormous, not to mention the need for self-assertion. The most logical approach is to view his actions as a variation on the numerous school massacres that have occurred in the past decades in the United States, Finland and Germany: a young man, a misfit, who is either partly or completely excluded from the group, takes as many people with him into death as he can, in order to ‘show’ us.
A few months before Breivik carried out the assault, he visited his former stepmother and told her that soon he was going to do something that would make his father proud. His mother had left his father when he was one, and it had been years since Breivik had spoken to him.
He wanted to be seen; that is what drove him, nothing else.
Look at me. Look at me. Look at me.
In the United States we need to incentivize the giving up of guns and implement much tougher gun control laws. At the same time, Seierstad and Knausgaard remind us that seeing the invisible in our midst is at least equally as important. Seeing means making eye contact with and talking to those who’ve given up and begun withdrawing. Some of the most alienated are children. To reduce domestic terrorism, we need to see them most of all.