Force Majeure is a major cinematic experience that puts viewers dead center into a scenario and where people are forced into making tough decisions during a perceived crisis. It’s a fascinating story about an affluent family that heads to the French Alps together to have some fun and spend some time together. It all takes a turn for the worse when they’re dining on rooftop patio at the base of the mountain and it looks like an avalanche is heading straight for them. While Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) shields her kids, her husband, Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) is running for his life. Then the unexpected happens, it was just a false alarm, and while most people are laughing it off, this family has been shaken to its very core, illuminating larger issues about the state of their relationships. They naturally both have very different takes on what happened, and they have to deal head on with what they learned that day.
Rarely do movies that look so grand get to tell such an intimate kind of story on such a grand scale, and while Force Majeure tackles privileged “first world problems,” it also confronts us with looks at the kinds of unexpected moments of personal weakness that head on, and forces us to accept these characters as deeply flawed human beings.
It’s an unassuming until that avalanche hits, and then everything slowly but surely changes. Writer and Director Ruben Östlund uses a great deal of subtlety, letting the awkward moments grow and grow as the film rolls on. He marries gorgeous exterior scenery with stark and sharp architecture inside the hotel. It takes on the look and feel of a sociological experiment taking place between these affluent people, and it shows worlds can break down in a single instant. It’s a perfect marriage of control and chaos.
Östlund doesn’t stuff the narrative with melodrama, playing more like a dark comedy at times, particularly in its depiction of the male psyche. There’s no obvious emotional manipulation. The social and emotional struggles that these characters are enduring stews in often awkward silence and anger until an ultimate breakdown that everyone involved with it has a hard time wrapping their heads around.
Johannes Kuhnke as Tomas makes a perfect example of the fractured male ego as. He truly doesn’t see what has happened as a big deal, but the more the truth comes out the more he can’t escape it. Lisa Loven Kongsli as Ebba tears down the gender conventions as the strong willed wife who’s rightfully pissed off. Both actors play it all so naturally that it can often feel like a documentary.
Force Majeure has such a sharply perceptive nature to it, showing how fragile, toxic, silly and ludicrous we can be to each other where no one can embrace who or what they are, which is as deeply fucked as it is blissfully human and imperfect. It’s a refreshing that one of the best movies of the year shows how we’d be better off as a species if we embraced our imperfections rather than hide from them.