Inside Out 2023: Norwegian Dream Review

An observant coming of age story about the forces that delay coming out

Robert (Hubert Milkowski) needs to be careful that he doesn’t make a joke about “serving fish” while on the workfloor. His colleagues at the fish factory probably wouldn’t get the reference. But they’d likely beat him up if they did. As Norwegian Dream follows the daily rhythms of this 19-year-old Polish boy working in a Norwegian fish processing plant, it explores the internalised shame people carry.

Even though the move to Norway means that Robert can explore rumblings he supressed in anti-LGBTQ Poland, his Polish colleagues made the trip with him. He’s trained himself to turn inward and keeps his head down to provide for his mom back home. Temptation proves strong, though, when Robert notices the out-and-proud Ivar (Karl Bekele Steinland) on the fish-gutting line. Ivar has great style and slick dance moves, but Robert observes how his friends snicker behind his back. However, seeing Ivar’s confidence and happiness rouses Robert from his slumber.

Norwegian Dream explores Robert’s journey of self-discovery by letting Norway’s progressive society highlight intolerance that exists around the globe. Writers Justyna Bilik, Gjermund Gisvold, and Radoslaw Paczocha look at the social factors that compound the reasons why Robert might resist coming out. The atmosphere of the fish farm is boisterously macho. Long hours on the workfloor mean that the employees really let loose off hours. They have little to do but drink. Beer-fuelled gatherings with rowdy male coworkers don’t invite the safe space Robert needs. When he finds said space in Ivar, he learns that Ivar is the boss’s son. Dating him therefore brings added pressure, especially when the workers seek to unionize and Robert realizes that he can’t risk the financial burden of a strike.


Making Dreams a Reality

Director Leiv Igor Devold lets the dilemma rest with his actors and favours an even-handed natural approach. Milkowski carries the film with a compelling introspective performance. He leans into Robert’s necessity to keep a low profile. Robert is observant and introspective, and one sees how he studies Ivar’s moves, yearning to be free. Steinland, meanwhile, makes Ivar a confident and carefree presence. He has the comfort of a family that supports him financially and emotionally. (He lives in the family sailboat, though, which suggests that his parents don’t totally love having a gay son.) When Robert’s mother comes to visit, and ultimately crashes in his dorm with hopes of getting a job, it’s clear the burden that Robert carries. He’s always been the provider in his family and never had much chance to take care of himself.


The young actors have strong chemistry, too, and create a believable relationship for Robert and Ivar’s ups-and-downs. Norwegian Dream follows the young men on their journey as Robert accepts a proposal from Ivar to work the music at one of his drag shows. Robert’s visibly uncomfortable, not having had any real exposure to a queer scene. A moment of shared joy quickly yields to rejection and disappointment with both actors making the emotional strain on the characters painfully clear.

Norwegian Dream unfolds Robert’s test of his loyalty to Ivar twofold as he negotiates their relationship and his place in the strike. The dual tension proves Robert’s ultimate test of himself as Norwegian Dream looks starkly at the choices some people have to make for love. The ending, refreshingly idealized, dreams of a day when no choices have to be made at all. This is a quiet, understated drama about young souls yearning to be free.


Norwegian Dream screens at Toronto’s Inside Out LGBTQ Film Festival.