Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Force Majeure (2014) - review

The fight-or-flight response is a much discussed topic within psychology, and our stress-induced reactions stretch back to our origins as humans. Media, however, prefers the fight response. Heroes have to be heroic, defending themselves and everyone else, and this attitude needs to seem instinctual. But what would you actually do in a fight-or-flight situation? Ruben Östlund deeply dark comedic tragedy asks this question, and wonders at the aftermath when faced with a distressing act of god.

A young family, headed by Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) and Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), are enjoying a family skiing holiday when a controlled avalanche is maybe a little too aggressive and blankets the restaurant balcony with avalanche smoke. There is screaming and panic, and, contrary to how you think he would react, Tomas runs away, abandoning his wife and two children. He comes back when the smoke has cleared, and they are all pretty shaken up by the event.

While Ebba pretends she is fine (and the kids are the quickest to pick up the animosity), she is quite clearly not, and is upset that her husband would choose to run instead of protecting his family. Instead of discusing her grief with Tomas, Ebba discusses it with everyone else who will listen, often with Tomas being right next to her. Tomas doesn't see it this way though, steadfast in the belief that he didn't run and that he stayed with his family. Even a video on his phone of the actual event, that he recorded himself, still leaves him unable to admit what he did.

It is no surprise that Östlund was inspired by YouTube clips, as the film, despite all its detached camera work, reels you in like a juicey piece of gossip. Its like eaves dropping on a private argument that's taking part in a public space. The more Tomas denigh's his actions, the more you're yelling at him to just admit it, but you know he can't. To admit his mistake would be to say he's a coward, and to be a coward is to be everything that Ebba, and society at large, say men can't be.

Force Majeure wants you ask what you would do in this situation, but more importantly, wants you to question what exactly a hero (male heroes in particular) are expected to do in the "real" world. Mats (Kristofer Hivju), a purely expositional character, is there to lay out to the audience more explicitly what we are actually dealing with here. One of Tomas' old friends, he tries to console Tomas and Ebba that "the 'enemy' is the image we have of heroes", that Ebba is maybe asking too much of Tomas. Later on, Tomas, in a fit of hysterical crying, admits that he is a victim of his own instincts, much to Ebba's embarrassment. In the end, Ebba's own protective instincts are put to the test.

We live a world, unfortunately, where boys and men are told from a young age to be a certain way; stereotypically masculine, in control of their emotions, and again, heroic. Force Majeure does well to question these unsatisfying gender modes, and repeatedly chips away at the facade that Tomas, and even Mats, have created of themselves (one especially funny scene sees Tomas mistakenly called sexy by a woman at a bar). While the camera work, set up for wide shots and drinking up the majesty of the Alps, maybe a little off putting for some, the smart script, which completely reels you in, will have you gawping at the slow-motion implosion of a nice holiday in the snow.



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