’22 July’ Stares Into The Face Of White-Supremacist Terror

Now More Than Ever, We Can’t Look Away

It took me four days to finish watching 22 July, the Paul Greengrass movie about the 2011 Norway summer-camp massacre, on Netflix. The opening 40 minutes or so, in which the horrors of that day play out in excruciating and unflinching detail, jarred me so much that I had to put it away. But I kept coming back, because I wanted to understand.

When the news about the anti-Semitic massacre in Pittsburgh broke, I still hadn’t finished the movie. I know that sounds like typical noblesse obilge. “It was my great misfortunate to be on assignment in Paris as the Towers fell,” or something like that. But as I’ve struggled to make sense of the horrors of Pittsburgh, and mourned along with my fellow Jews, 22 July has helped me make sense of it all. I wish it didn’t have to exist.

Norway and Pittsburgh have a lot of parallels, and not just weather-related ones. A lone-wolf gunman, driven by a toxic anti-immigrant, anti-globalist ideology, slaughtered innocents. In Pittsburgh, the victims were elderly synagogue-goers. In Norway, Anders Behring Breivik bombed government buildings and gunned down defenseless children for the crime of being “liberals.” These are the plain facts, and they cannot be denied.

Greengrass spends much of his movie focusing on the recovery and healing of one of Breivik’s victims. It’s deeply humanist and necessary, but not the most important part of the film. Breivik, brilliantly and chillingly played by Anders Danielson Lie, gets plenty of screen time to spell out his ideology. He says that he’s just a soldier in a larger war. That he’s not crazy. That even when he’s locked away for life, others will rise up to take his place. The slaughter in Pittsburgh makes that seem like prophecy.

Never forget

I’ve seen reviews of 22 July that claim that by providing a mouthpiece for a character like Breivik, Greengrass is acting as an unwitting recruitment tool for other white supremacists. But those tools already exist. Clearly. Maybe potential genocidal monsters are scrolling Netflix like wanna-be gangsters worshipping Tony Montana, but that’s doubtful, and the least of our problems. Breivik and Robert Bowers, and those like them, live in the shadows. They’ve already done their damage, outside of the realm of popular culture.

Way more disturbing, I saw a piece that says that Greengrass’ brilliant and brave movie espouses a globalist agenda, that tries to paint all anti-immigrant politics with the same broad brush. But that’s simply not true. He merely says that it’s wrong to murder innocent people in the service of ideology. Anyone who disagrees with that is an ideological accessory to crime.

Greengrass even takes time to feature testimony from a leader of Norway’s far right, who says that, yes, they are anti-immigrant, but they disagree with Breivik’s methods. That’s painted in contrast to Norway’s leader, a somewhat timid and typical Eurozone liberal, now Secretary-General of NATO, who can offer nothing but platitudes about how we have to “do better.” That spells out the conflict perfectly. The nationalists offer terrible solutions while the globalists wonder how their messaging got so weak.

The tides of history have us all caught in their currents. Society has malfunctioned, or at least gone glitchy. That said, we’re all trying to make sense of the new world order, however misguidedly. But when a massacre occurs, the onus can only be placed on the person who pulled the trigger.

You can want a tighter immigration policy, or a looser one. It’s acceptable, within the realm of political discourse, to celebrate diversity as the highest good or to seek a uniform national identity, as long as that identity isn’t based in ethnicity. But that’s as far as it goes. Faced with unspeakable bloodshed, we all need to reclaim our humanity. We must never forget the innocent victims of terror.

In that context, 22 July feels like required viewing. Just be prepared to spread it out over a few days.

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Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of 12 semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer for both film and television, Neal has written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

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