Force Majeure

Cast: Johannes Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Vincent Wettergren, Clara Wettergren, Kristofer Hivju, Fanni Metelius

Director: Ruben Östlund

Writer: Ruben Östlund

How would you respond in a crisis? From time to time we all wonder how we would behave if we ever found ourselves in a life-threatening situation and allowed our instincts to take over. We would all like to think that we’d be able to keep our heads and prove ourselves to be heroic in the face of such danger but the truth is that no one can really know for sure how they would react. Some of us might not be as brave as we think we are and could find ourselves unable to cope with the stress of the situation. Some of us might be instinctively overcome by a strong desire to preserve ourselves and forget about our loved ones. It is a daunting question and some people are actually afraid of what they might do if they ever found themselves in peril. People reveal their true natures when faced with danger and not all of us are the people that we want to be. Such is the subject of Force Majeure when a wife finds out that her husband is not the man that she though he was.

The story is that of Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) and his wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) who have taken their two children on a skiing holiday in the Alps. At first glance they appear to be a perfect photogenic family enjoying some quality time together, but there are a few cracks in the seams. There is the hint of a strained relationship between the husband and wife as Ebba casually mentions using this vacation as a means of getting her husband away from the office and spending some time together as a family. The holiday seems to be doing them a lot of good as they unanimously enjoy themselves and escape their worries and bothers. Their carefree joy only lasts for a single day.

On the second day of their holiday the family enjoy their lunch on a terrace with a magnificent view of the mountains. From there they hear a loud bang followed by the appearance of an avalanche. Taking it for a controlled avalanche, the inhabitants of the restaurant stand in awe and bring out their phones and cameras. Seconds later, when it becomes clear that the avalanche is heading straight for the building, panic ensues. In that moment Ebba takes a hold of her children in order to protect them while Tomas grabs his gloves and phone and makes a run for it. The terrace becomes engulfed in a fog and, for what feels like an eternity, there is nothing but silence and complete whiteness. The fog eventually clears and everyone is unharmed. Tomas returns to his family and makes a glib remark about the avalanche, seemingly unaware of what he just did. However Ebba saw what happened. He ran. He left his family behind and ran.

Ebba is unable to look at her husband in the same way as before. She is deeply disappointed in him and is unsure whether or not she can even forgive him. Before long she confronts Tomas on what he did, only for him to deny that it happened. He insists that he remembers the day differently and believes that he had actually stayed with his family. The conflict and tension between them increases as Tomas flat out refuses to admit what he did. Ebba finds herself wondering whether her husband is someone she can even trust anymore. She isn’t even sure which is worse, the fact that he ran away or the fact that he is lying about it. Tomas however does understand what he has done and is deeply ashamed of himself. He hopes that he can just forget about it and pretend that it never happened, but he comes to realise that he cannot run away from himself. He has come to realise that he is not the man he wants to be, that there is a deep part of himself that he has always resented which has made itself known. As they hash out their differences, their children become afraid as this conflict threatens to destroy their marriage.

Force Majeure is a film that dares to ask a difficult question. It is a confrontational and an uncomfortable question but it is also an important one. It invites the viewers to consider who they are and what they might do if they ever found themselves in that kind of situation. As the characters contemplate their actions and what they say about them, the film never resorts to easy answers or cop-outs. While Tomas’ actions may have been cowardly, do they necessarily make him a bad person? Can anyone really be blamed for making an instinctive split-second decision, even if it was the wrong one? Can anyone in the audience honestly know for sure whether or not they’d have done the same thing? This film does not criticise nor does it judge. It merely holds a mirror to the audience and it asks them to look into it.