Force Majeure 2014 movie – Family or self?

'Force Majeure' - A 2014 film by Ruben Östlund questions the role of a parent ( particularly a father) in times of a crisis. Should he risk his life for his family or save himself first?
  • ‘Force Majeure’ in French means ‘irresistible compulsion or superior strength.’

In a nutshell, Ruben Östlund‘s (director of the 2017 palme d’or winner, ‘The Square’) ‘Force Majeure’ is a movie that talks about the role of a parent (father, actually) in case of a crisis.

What should a father do when he and his family are in a life-threatening situation? Fight or flight?

Oh, wait, it also deals with the role of a mother. Read along, and you’ll know how and why : )

Force Majeure – The beginning

Thomas and Ebba, parents of two children, go for a skiing vacation in a French Alpine Resort. What begins as a simple family vacation turns into a disastrous introspection on the couple’ds marital relationship. It goes in so deep that their marriage gets pushed to the verge of coming to an end.

The movie begins with the couple getting ready to enjoy their break from work in a jubilant mood. Their enthusiasm is sky-high as they ask a photographer to click their family pictures. Their joy holds no bounds as they continue clicking various poses of themselves, both as a memory and to show the world off.

The first day goes smoothly with a little skiing and photographing. They take print-outs and cherish the beauty of the shots and their kids. They meet their friends and discuss how good the photos are. They check in to their rooms and take a quiet nap off the day.

They wake up the next day to the sounds of fire from the controlled avalanches. As they get ready, the camera shows us the shots of unusual events taking place around them. Few snow movers are continuously gracing the fields at nights with occasional blasts that trigger the avalanche. Vivaldi’s ‘Storm’ from ‘Four seasons’ adds to our anxiety that some kind of a disaster is bound to happen. An image of an avalanche hitting them forms in our heads.

Force Majeure - The family
Force Majeure – The family

The pseudo disaster – An avalanche

However, the calmness of the family restores our peace, albeit just momentarily. As they settle themselves in a restaurant with a magnificent hill view on their side, things seem quite normal. As they begin to eat their food, a loud bang sound jerks the customers. As they turn around towards the source of the sound, they find an avalanche coming towards them. As Ebba and her children scream towards Thomas, he assures them that it is a controlled one and won’t hit them. However, as time passes, it is clear that the avalanche is headed towards them. With Thomas’ continuous reassurance, the avalanche hits them. The diners run askew for protection. The entire screen turns white.

After a few seconds, we gradually get to see the tables of the restaurant intact. Ebba and her children slowly sit back on their chairs after hiding under the table. People who ran downstairs slowly get back to their places. Thomas walks up and sits on his chair. An eerie silence follows as people get back from the initial shock.

All the while, the camera sits firmly without any movement. We have a single long shot of the family sitting down for their lunch to the sudden avalanche attack back to the normal restoration. The effect of this event’s no-pan angle reflects the simplicity and real-time effects of the avalanche. After a while, it becomes clear that it was indeed a controlled avalanche that has extended a few meters beyond its planned stoppage.

Unlike the film ‘The Everest’, the disaster we feared might happen actually ends in a few minutes, without being much significant. However, little do we know that this avalanche is the key turning point of the plot. The disaster has, in fact, hit so hard in terms of the plot. Only we aren’t aware of its implications at this stage.

Ebba’s ‘irritation’

After lunch, they get back to their rooms. However, Ebba seems ‘irritated’ throughout. Despite thinking it to be an aftermath of the avalanche’s shock, Thomas speaks to her personally and enquires if things are all right. Ebba assures that she is fine, and Thomas relaxes.

At the dinner, though, the real reason behind Ebba’s ‘irritation’ gets revealed. As they relate their experience to their friends at dinner, Thomas explains how the avalanche came at them all of a sudden. Ebba agrees with him and says that it was a terrible moment. She goes on to add that Thomas ran away from the table out of fear, leaving them alone. Thomas looks astonished at her comment and refuses her claim with a laugh. Laughing at him, Ebba teases him that he, in fact, ran away.

What begins as a comical acquisition gets serious as Thomas refuses to accept her version. Later that night, they have another personal conversation where they come to terms with each other. They don’t want whatever happened to them tonight at the ‘godawful dinner’ to happen again. They go to bed.

Force Majeure - Thomas, the tragic husband under pressure
Force Majeure – Thomas, the tragic husband under pressure

These two events drive the story to the second Act of the ‘Force Majeure’. A closer look at happened at the time of the avalanche reveals that Thomas had indeed run away just before the snow hit the restaurant for his safety. Ebba pulls her children towards her, and they hide them under the table. As the white canvas slowly clears, Thomas comes back to the table.

The real disaster

Two things disturb Ebba. One, the fact that Thomas chose to save himself, leaving behind her and the children, was not acceptable. Two, the more troubling reason is that Thomas doesn’t agree with her version and says that he doesn’t see it that way. The entire movie, save the last quarter of an hour, runs based on this problem.

Ebba reiterates the same story to a couple of her friends and gets distressed every time she speaks about it. Despite repeated assurances, Thomas couldn’t get rid of the thoughts of the disaster from his wife’s head.

For Ebba, the mere fact that her husband left the family when in trouble is undigestable. It keeps hurting her stronger than she thought it would. Seldom did she have an idea that it was the beginning of a crack in their relationship shell. Throughout the movie, she argues with Thomas that she would never do that in her dreams. Also, she feels that sort of action to be a betrayal. Thomas remains speechless.

After all, a single event has provoked such harsh treatment of Thomas. If we are to judge him by his action, or rather a spontaneous reaction to the avalanche, we are wrong. In the spur of the moment, our mental metabolism works rapidly. It tries to understand the gravity of the danger that lies in front of us and tries to develop an action plan (yes, ‘reaction’ it is). And that comes to be either of the famous ‘Flight or Fight’ reaction.

Flight or Fight?

Researches suggest that most of the time, our mind chooses the former than the latter. The simple logic is that it turns out to be the optimal way of averting the danger and, at the same time, conserve the energy. With that in mind, Thomas’s Act is nothing unnatural.

However, when introspecting the same from Ebba’s point of view, it seems to be a grave mistake of Thomas to run away without worrying about his wife’s safety, and worst, his children. If Thomas had tried to justify his Act by acknowledging his fear and trying to console Ebba, things could have turned out better. But that seldom happens. And for the next hour or so, they build the dominoes that stand between them and a divorce. All it needed was a correct single push, and the way to a relationship break could be inevitable.

Thomas breaks down

But, thankfully, after multiple prolonged episodes of contradictions, confrontations, and dialogues, the dominoes stayed there. Thomas, at one point, breaks down completely and cries his heart out to Ebba. He confronts his own self that has begun to seem a stranger to himself. He pleads with Ebba to help him.

Those cries ease Ebba. She finds the innocent self trying to fight against the role of a father and a husband. She decides to move on. And to prove Thomas’ valiant cries, the next, when Ebba gets lost in the snow, Thomas makes it a point to search Ebba and lift her back to their place. This restores Ebba’s confidence in Thomas. The children throw a smile on their faces too. Their relationship has literally survived a disaster. The disaster here is, of course, greater than the initial avalanche.

Force Majeure - The family unites as Thomas breaks down
Force Majeure – The family unites as Thomas breaks down

The Twist?

The third Act sees them getting ready to return to their home. Their faces are jubilant. While the movie was coming to the usual cliche sort of an end, an ingenious twist surfaces at the end. As they travel on a bus to reach the airport, the bus driver seems to drive recklessly. After repeated warnings and shouts from Ebba, the bus driver continued his haste driving. In the end, she storms towards the driver and asks him to stop the bus. With the driver applying the brakes, she jumps out of the door. Thomas and the children are still in their seats. Ebba moves a safe distance from the bus and waits for them.

Nothing much happens after this as all the people get down the bus and begin walking a long way towards the airport. Thomas holds his children’s hands and conceals a little smile as he inhales a puff of smoke from a fellow passenger.

This incident, though a perfect ending the story could ever have had, is disturbing. Was it trying to prove that Thomas had a point when he tried to save himself during the avalanche? Or is it trying to say that both the male and female have similar mental metabolism? Is it giving hope to Thomas, or is it creating a new splash of conversations that tend to question their relationship’s survival?

This movie reminds ‘Lantana‘ a lot. Although both are quite different films, they provide a detailed study of relationships in general. ‘Lantana’ has a complex screen writing as it brings in a murder investigation into picture. Force Majeure, on the other hand, keeps things pretty simple and focuses on the one thing it tries to explore.

‘Force Majeure’ is an open-ended movie and warrants a deep discussion that could bring forth different insights and add valuable take-aways from the movie. Do comment your thoughts on the movie in the comments section below.

Oh, by the way, the climax is inspired by a real-life video that is on YouTube.

Force Majeure – Trailer

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