Don’t think I’ll need to visit the French Alps anytime soon. I prefer to be alive.
A Swedish family spends a week in the French Alps for what seems to be a relatively stress-free, enjoyable vacation, as most families want. One afternoon, however, that all seems to change. While the family’s out dining on a deck, they hear an avalanche pop, but they feel as if it is controlled enough that they don’t have to worry and possibly even run for their lives. Several seconds later, it looks as if the avalanche is not at all controlled, is heading straight for them, and leaves them all to do what they assume to be their final moments alive. Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) stays behind and shelters her two kids, whereas Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) runs away and never turns back. Well, turns out that the avalanche actually was controlled in the first place, but one that was just a tad too close to comfort for all of them. But now, Ebba is concerned about her husband, seeing as how he ran away from them all, rather than stay back and try to protect them in any way imaginable. This puts a lot of their relationship into perspective and, as a result, the vacation a lot more uncomfortable and tense.
It takes a lot for a movie to have me on the edge of my seat. I’m not saying that as some sort of brag; I’m saying that because after all of the movies I’ve seen over a the past decade or so, and realizing that many plot-threads are identical in almost every part of one movie’s nature, there’s only so much a movie can do that totally throws me for a loop and has me not knowing what to expect, where, why, or even how. Though there are many movies that can do this to me, they’re more than likely already crazy pieces of genre film that you expect to throw you for a loop, every so often. However, for a human-based drama to throw me off my game? Now that’s something new!
Not to mention, something I definitely welcome.
And that’s what I had here with Force Majeure, a movie that I didn’t expect to be more than just a family dealing with the aftermath of an avalanche. Although, technically, the movie is dealing with the aftermath of said avalanche, the way writer/director Ruben Östlund goes about exploring it as the movie runs along, is what’s so interesting and what, ultimately, threw me for a loop just about every step of the way I was willing to roll with this movie.
For instance, everything leading up to the actual avalanche itself is really simple, almost too much so. It paints this portrait of a normal, everyday family that seem like they need some time away from their lives at home and just want to sit back, relax and enjoy the slopes while they can. But when the avalanche comes rolling in, and all of a sudden, the family fears that their lives may be in full-danger, then it becomes clear that this is going to be a different kind of movie that isn’t as simple, or peeled-apart as you may think.
And speaking of that avalanche rolling down, it’s one of the more tense, hard-to-look-away from sequences that I’ve seen in something that wasn’t an action movie. Literally, it starts off nice and easy, and then all of a sudden, goes from 1 to 11 and already, you can feel that there’s death in the air. However, what Östlund does so well here is that he keeps the camera as still as humanly possible, without ever shifting around and making it seem like he wants us to feel the same excitement and intensity that these characters may be going through as well. He just keeps the camera right then and there, and allows for us to watch it as it’s happening; which, in turn, makes the sequence all the more terrifying, as we can see the avalanche coming in as plain as day, yet, there’s still nothing we can do about it.
Then, after that happens, Östlund takes down everywhere he can go with this family and it’s where the movie gets to become the most interesting, as well as the most unpredictable – something I didn’t expect.
What I mean by “unpredictable”, too, is to say that every scene starts off normal, as if you could tell what’s going to happen, where it’s going to end up, and what we, the audience, is going to learn more about once all is said and done with. By this, I don’t mean that people engage in constant gun-battles that end in hectic blazes of fire, blood and ammunition-shells; what I mean is that while you expect the scene to be just exposition, it turns into showing us more and more about this family, their dynamic together, and exactly what this terrifying event has done to them. Though Östlund makes the smart choice of picking any sides in the matter, nor does he make it at all clear where he is going to go with this story. This is where the characters come in and show that there’s more to this story, rather than just picking out who was in the wrong, and who was in the right. More or less, they’re all in the wrong; it’s just a matter of who is more so in the wrong than the other.
That’s if I’m making any sense whatsoever.
Like I was saying, though, Östlund paints each and everyone of these characters human beings; albeit, ones with plenty of emotion that they may not always be able to take control of. This is most evident in Ebba, but with good reason – not only does it seem like her and her husband haven’t been able to spend quality, loving-time together, now she finds out that he may not even have her, or their family’s best interests at heart. After this, she lashes out at him at random, sometimes inappropriate times and not only puts her hubby into an uncomfortable position, but those around them as well. It makes her, on the surface, seem like an annoying, emotional wreck that needs to either be put in the corner, or given a smack to wake her up and allow her to smell the cauliflower.
But she isn’t, and the same goes for Tomas, which makes the dilemma all the more rich and frustrating to answer for yourself. Except, when you look at the situation in his shoes and through his eyes, the decision is a lot more difficult to figure out: Would you try to save yourself from death, if that at all seemed plausible? Or, would you stay with the ones you supposedly love and tough it out regardless? They’re two roads you could take, which makes it all the more interesting to see not only how Tomas himself realizes this, and refuses to actually admit to it, and also by how he constantly gets it thrown back into his face by his wife who clearly knows his intentions. It all creates plenty food-for-thought and may, more than likely, remind you that even though your family loves you and supports you, they may not be there to save you from imminent death.
You know, happy thoughts.
Consensus: On the surface, Force Majeure seems like another simple family-drama, but is anything but with complex questions, and no easy answers whatsoever.
8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!
Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images