Force Majeure (film)

Force Majeure (Directed by Ruben Ostlund)/2014

Force Majeure explores the conformist nature of gender roles and the family unit. It also shows how much of the misery in human life comes from superficial demands placed on oneself, others and the world without taking into account what people and the natural world are actually like.

A Swedish family begins a ski holiday at a beautiful resort in France. From the beginning of the movie there is a tension of expectations: this MUST be a fun trip, and any hint of irritability or tiredness are taken as an affront to this expectation. Children being children express their human emotions, but Tomas and Ebba (the father and mother) place pressure on themselves and each other to have the idyllic family holiday experience they planned and worked for.  Expensive hotel and the limited time raise the stakes.

Like much of life, the universe has other plans for Tomas and Ebba. A human made avalanche is set off to loosen the snow and nearly flattens the diners in a fancy resort restaurant. The irony is not lost that this is a human made disaster, like much of that which befalls the species. Powerful symbolism is also found in the clashing of the brutal, natural force and the neat tablecloths and the silverware lying in its way.

What happens during the avalanche? Tomas runs away, leaving Ebba and the children to perish alone. No one actually gets hurt, but the damage to the relationship has been done. Ebba expects her man to be there by her side through the good and the bad times in life; she does not want a man that will run away at any sign of trouble. How could Tomas leave the children? Is he completely self-centered, or simply a pathetic coward?

Questions begin to plague Ebba, but she can only express her frustrations under the influence of alcohol. Tomas however will not admit to what has happened and places self-conflicting expectations on himself: to be brave and protective of his family. To admit that he has run would be to admit that he is not the person he demands himself to be.

Obviously Tomas’ self-deceit infuriates Ebba even more. Tomas here fails to meet another expectation: being honest and communicative, and his denial implicitly entails that Ebba is a liar. This frustration builds up throughout the movie as Ebba cannot accept Tomas’ inability to admit his failure to meet her expectations.

Throughout the movie the physical environment operates as a metaphor for the human relationships that unfold within it. Humans demand the mountain to be something that is fundamentally against its nature. It is dressed up with resorts and restaurants and cut and carved to be the post-card setting of our lives. Yet, nature is always there waiting to ruin this idyllic image; avalanches and storms happen and we can only deal with these properly if we accept them as fundamental aspects of nature.

Force Majeure is an interesting and relevant investigation into the demands we place on ourselves, others and the world, and how a lot of misery occurs when these demands are not met. It shows how things only worsen when we fail to acknowledge that the demands are artificial and our failure to meet them is often only one perspective. We cannot hide from the truth and avalanches of human frailty occur from time to time. It shows how many of these expectations result from notions of what men, women and parents should be, even if these stereotypes force us to be something not natural to us.

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