For a stable nation, Norway has a remarkable fondness for disaster films, where the impressive nature faces the country and its inhabitants. The disaster genre took off The wave (2015) by Roar Uthaug, located in a beautiful fjord. Geiranger is threatened by an unstable mountainside, which, if collapsed, will cause a 75-meter-long tsunami that will reach the city in 10 minutes and destroy everything in its path. Strong starting point for a film where the hourglass is constantly running, and most importantly, the tsunami is convincingly portrayed. This followed Trembling (2018), where Oslo, including beautiful new construction on the fjord, is erased from the map, and The tunnel (2019), where Norway, ‘country with a thousand tunnels’, is presented with the bill on loose security policy.
And as it is with this genre: Disasters are becoming more and more apocalyptic. In 2021, it was in North Sea (also The burning sea) shifted to the huge oil fields off the Norwegian coast, the source of the now world-famous prosperity. Utilization on the seabed causes shifts in depth in the film, where oil platforms are engulfed and a giant oil spill threatens to end almost all of northwestern European nature and economy. Unless the oil spill is on fire. Call it Ekofisk’s revenge. Maybe we were not an oil country, the narrator finally ponders North Seaif Norway has been thrown back into the pre-oil economy, ‘maybe we’re a water park’.
Yes, that oil. The fact that the discovery of the Ekofisk oil field in 1969, in the words of the author Johan Harstad, meant a kind of year zero for Norway, was not only drastic for the Norwegian economy (Stavanger became the Norwegian oil capital), but also, until today, for Norwegian and Scandinavian culture. And not just because of the new wealth that was also reflected in higher culture budgets. Ekofisk also became a mythical entity; not only an endless source of oil, but also a source of inspiration for fiction writers who could place the oil field in the midst of modern dilemmas about the choices a society must make – environment versus prosperity, for example.
In the new season of the Danish Netflix series Sure, where our heroine Birgitte Nyborg is Minister of Foreign Affairs ten years after last season, revolves around an important part of the action about the discovery of a large oil field under the former Greenland colony, a field ‘the size of Ekofisk’. Mentioning the source of Norway’s phenomenal prosperity immediately exacerbates the dilemma Nyborg faces. And so much the more so because it becomes very difficult to keep up with the climate promises that her party went into government with. Should she throw it overboard on the first Ekofisk?
Oil wealth is also central to the dystopian series Taken (original title occupied, available on Netflix), from an idea by thriller writer Jo Nesbø. The first of three seasons aired in 2015. In the near future, Norway has been hit by a catastrophic storm, a first-order climate catastrophe. The Norwegian cabinet decides to stop gas and oil production and focus on alternative energy sources for the future. But as Norway in this version of the future was around the last source of oil on the planet, the decision has far-reaching consequences for the entire geopolitical order. Nesbø reminds us once again that Norway borders Russia in the far north.
In a plot twist that now, in the middle of the war in Ukraine and an overly real energy crisis, seems alienating to say the least, Russia is annexing the Norwegian oil fields, with support from the EU. Of course, it does not stop at those oil fields. The world economy continues to run, but in Norway opposition to this new occupation is growing. The then Russian ambassador to Norway sued the allegedly far-flung plot, recalling once again “the heroic contribution of Soviet troops to the liberation of Norway during the Nazi occupation.”
The oil wealth and privileges of the youngest Norwegian generations have been woven as a thread through recent Norwegian films. take The worst person in the world (2021) where filmmaker Joachim Trier outlines the life of the young woman Julie (the beautiful Renate Reinsve); forever searching for a destination in life while she seems to have it all, in the most privileged part of the world. In an interview in de Volkskrant, Trier explained how young Norwegians still feel farthest human being (the worst person on earth) can feel: ‘If you can not even handle it in Norway, where everything should be so easy, then you must be the world’s worst person, right?’
Julie is no exception in the new Norwegian cinema; she is closely related to Rakel (Kristine Kujath Thorp, aka the main character in North Sea) from the charming ninja baby (Yngvild Sve Flikke, 2021) who sees her vague ambitions (astronaut? Cartoonist?) Topple when she turns out to be pregnant, and has been for a while. Both women go through deep valleys, both women struggle with a choice of children, and in the final scenes of the films, they seem to have mainly chosen for their artistic ambitions. Still typically Norwegian, perhaps.
But perhaps there is even more to it than the privileges that the discovery of that oil field in front of the door brought with it. Seven years after the attacks on 22 July 2011 in Oslo and on the island of Utøya (where 69 participants in a youth camp were murdered by the terrorist Anders Breivik), the Norwegian filmmaker Erik Poppe released a fantastic reconstruction of the exact 72 minutes that the massacre on the island lasted ; all filmed in one continuous shot. Utøya 22 July (2018) is about the contemporaries of Julie and Rachel who will never have the luxury of facing dilemmas in their lives.
IN witch hunt, one of the best Norwegian series of recent years (included in 2021 on the Volkskrant series panel’s annual list), about corruption and money laundering at government level, says one of the characters with conviction: ‘Things like this do not happen in Norway. ‘ But no one believes in it anymore.