Movie Review: “Force Majeure” Examines Personal Choices And Their Consequences


Review by James McDonald

A family on a ski holiday in the French Alps find themselves staring down an avalanche during lunch one day; in the aftermath, their dynamic has been shaken to its core, with a question mark hanging over their patriarch in particular.

While on vacation at a beautiful skiing resort in the Swiss Alps with his wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and two children Vera (Clara Wettergren) and Harry (Vincent Wettergren), Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) is having the time of his life away from the pressures and stress of work. The resort is constantly generating controlled avalanches to keep on top of the accumulative snowfall from the previous night but one morning, while eating breakfast at the resort’s topside restaurant, Tomas and his family are witness to a distant avalanche. Initially, nobody is scared because they are commonplace but people quickly realize something is wrong when the snow makes its way toward the resort. In a split second, Ebba grabs her two children while Tomas grabs his iPhone and scurries away.

Luckily, only the dust from the avalanche is what actually engulfed the resort and people slowly return to their tables, making sure everyone else is okay. As Ebba resurfaces from under their table, Tomas is nowhere to be found until the dust settles whereby he slowly returns, acting like his cowardly behavior never transpired. As the day goes on, Ebba slowly succumbs to the realization that her husband and best friend, cared more about himself and his phone than his own family. When she finally confronts him about it, he insists that what she recollects is not what happened and that she is entitled to her point of view but that he doesn’t share it, rather, he continually insists that everyone and everything is fine and that she should be grateful because of it.

Initially, when I saw the poster for “Force Majeure”, I thought it was a disaster film more akin to the 1970s movies like the aptly-titled “Avalanche”, “The Towering Inferno”, “Earthquake” and “The Poseidon Adventure” but while director Ruben Östlund has most certainly created a ‘disaster’ movie, it is one that pertains to personal choice and ultimately, individual interpretation rather than the elements. When the person you are married to and who your children look up to and admire, runs away just when you need them the most, how do you cope with that? And when they deny that the events that materialized never actually happened and try to convince you and others that you are a liar, the psychological damage in virtue of this betrayal, may never be repaired and the movie analyzes these aspects in excruciating detail.

When Tomas’ friend Mats (Kristofer Hivju) and his girlfriend Fanny (Fanni Metelius) drop by for a visit, Ebba explains to them what happened and again, Tomas fervently denies it, claiming that the events Ebba described, were greatly exaggerated and even when she picks up Tomas’ phone and shows them the video of the experience as he was recording it while it happened, he still remains in denial, trying to convince everyone and himself, that he did nothing wrong. Tomas eventually has a breakdown, appalled at himself and the person he has become. He has cheated on Ebba in the past, he has lied, he has turned into a coward and he feels that he cannot live with himself any more but his family, as wounded and afflicted as they are, forgive and accept his failings.

I applaud writer/director Ruben Östlund for taking such a peculiar subject matter and turning it into a laborious endeavor for one woman and her supposed astuteness in regards to her husband. The film could have very well taken place in a bank with a robbery in progress or at the beach with a rogue wave but setting the events and the story at a beautiful Swiss Alps resort, gave cinematographer Fredrik Wenzel the opportunity to present some absolutely breathtaking visuals and beautifully photographed mountainous scenery. Highly recommended.

In select theaters October 31st including the Angelika Film Center in Dallas

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James McDonald
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