Force Majeure projects an unfamiliar gaze on a typical family who goes on a typical ski holiday. Except the family’s normalness changes and the film shifts and opens a plethora of questions and ideas regarding gender expectations and modern influences on society. And this all comes from one single moment in the first ten minutes—an action that truly speaks louder than any dialogue uttered in the two hours.
This altering moment occurs when Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) instinctively reaches for his iPhone at lunch and runs away from his wife and two young children during what looks like an uncontrolled, threatening Avalanche. His actions clearly show the impact advancing technology has on our lives and this isn’t the first time it’s revealed, but is seen in much smaller moments when Tomas checks his phone during a nap, when wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) wakes up and the first thing she asks is the whereabouts of her phone, or when the children are glued to their iPads during much of their downtime. The bigger focus post Avalanche, however, is the different people Tomas and Ebba become. We no longer have a confident, protective and intelligent man. Instead, Tomas can’t confess his fear of the unknown or even admit to running away from his family when the Avalanche looked like it was coming to destroy them. Eventually Tomas sees himself as someone he despises. But the real fixation lies within Ebba and her complex thoughts about marriage and her husband in general after she stays to shield her children from harm and he runs the other way with his most valuable possessions. She becomes what Tomas was: relaxed, in charge, and confident.
Ebba doesn’t just reflect on her husband’s actions through shaming him in front of their friends by reliving the episode, but also during a very significant scene when she speaks to one of her friends about motherhood and her partnership with Tomas. Here Ebba can’t wrap her head around her friend’s open marriage, but the reasoning is told simply: there is so much more to life than being reliable for your husband or children. Your entire being does not exist just for other people, but it’s one’s happiness that matters above all. It doesn’t seem like Ebba will transform and center her values around these, but the scenes that follow allude that she is indeed contemplating the conversation. She doesn’t give Tomas the same affection afterwards. She leaves her children and Tomas for the day to ski by herself and during the terrific scene near the end when Tomas has a mental breakdown, Ebba does not console him but demands him to be quiet and to calm down. This tug of war for control and sensibility is entertaining and worth another look because we can’t guess what Ebba will do. Will she leave her husband because of this one selfish action? Will she truly forgive him and go back to having the happy companionship we caught glimpse of at the beginning?
The film’s laced with enthralling scenic moments but the ones I found most creative were those with the lens aimed towards a mirror or window. To me this gave a clear message through a foggy picture. We don’t get to experience this marriage full on but are rather looking at it from the outside. It’s just a reflection. It’s two hours where can reconsider our own relationships ( like the women in Force Majeure do) and at the same time judge the one in front of us. We laugh at them. We pity them. We are thankful we aren’t them. This is even seen through the other characters in the film like Mats (Kristofer Hivju) and Fanni (Fanni Metelius) the other couple on the trip who are friends with Tomas and Ebba. When they hear of Tomas’s selfish actions and even mention that the two need serious therapy they are judging just like us, but then an interesting mood from this dilemma rubs off on their relationship. The judges become the judged.
It’s a messy situation—this trip to the French Alps that’s meant to bring the couples closer together. One big twisted experience that’s comedic, sad, freighting, and overall makes a much bigger commentary on gender roles. It should be noted the role the women play in the beginning of the film and the one they take on in the end. Viewers will have different opinions, but I was thrilled to see these norms played with, manipulated at times, and represented in a logical, new way.