Movie Review: ‘Force Majeure’ gets all Metafizzical…

Swedish movies are known for their brooding interiors, but brooding exteriors? Now there’s fresh food for thought, thought experiment, that is, which best describes this little peach of a movie from Swedish director Ruben Ostlund. The premise is simple enough: a ‘controlled avalanche’ in the French Alps goes a little bit out of control, giving tourists dining on the view and crepes a good scare, and their split-second reactions a good lesson in metaphysics. Spoiler alert: get your popcorn before the movie starts, because the climax comes within the first ten minutes. Everything else is denouement. Alternative title suggestion: ‘Premature Extrapolation’….

The French title (better than the Swedish title ‘Turist’ btw), of course translates most obviously to ‘Major Force’, but that sounds like a Charles Bronson movie, so ‘Act of God’ is probably the better rendition, referring as it does to the clause in most contracts that allows a way out for everyone, much harm but no foul; i.e. ‘sh*t happens’, responsibility must be shared, if the concept even applies. And that’s the plot: when the ‘little avalanche’ comes, people revert to basic instincts for survival. The wife and mother immediately protects her kids. The husband and father pulls a George Costanza and makes for the exit, reappearing only long after the fog of disaster has cleared. Food for thought? You bet…

Everything else is anti-climactic. Sound like life itself? There’s a reason for that. The entire movie revolves around the theme of life as lived in the 21st century, behind the ironic curtains of technology and instinct. To generalize it verbally is almost cliché: no matter how technologically advanced we are, at heart we are still pathetic and almost increasingly useless, specialized to the extent of our own upcoming extinction. Got it. To see it playing itself out in the mind of someone traumatized by near-disaster is poignant. There are no good answers to the recurring questions of ‘Why?’ Why?’ Why?’

It is equally poignant to see it play itself out on the wide screen of Nature: is a ski resort itself anything but a challenge to God and all our concepts of Him, simultaneously requesting entertainment and protection from it at the same time? Is that a reasonable request, or the desperate pathetic yearnings of a species on the verge of a nervous breakdown? The protagonist finally owns up to his responsibility, or lack thereof, after his wife refuses to let him plead ignorance. In fact he even achieves something close to Christian deliverance or emotional catharsis in the process. But is it legit?

Apparently it’s only legit when the woman says so, in something of an anti-climactic mini-plot toward the end, in which he saves her from a situation similar to the first, from which she apparently didn’t really need to be saved. Huh? Is this a Bunuel film? I thought it was a Bergman film. The final nail in the coffin occurs when the bus driver ferrying them home along narrow twisted Alpine roads has a bout of Parisian driving fits, dodging precipitous cliffs as if they were street urchins peddling Gauloises, until our heroine can take no more, begging to get off the bus, WITHOUT HER KIDS!

The entire busload follows, including our male protag AND the kids, he apparently now totally reformed, she gone off the deep end. Now I’m really confused. As the credits roll an entire busload of passengers is walking back to civilization after the pas d’Anglais bus driver dumps them unceremoniously on the side of the road and leaves without them. I don’t buy it. Why do I get the feeling that the film either ran out of money or ideas at the end?

No, I don’t need a happy ending, but I do need closure. Did the passengers make it back? That’s a long walk; and carrying kids? Still the metaphysical questions linger: Who are we? How did we get here? What do we do now? Where are we going? To ask these questions outright is pedantic. For them to bubble up spontaneously from a minimalistic script is sublime. That’s where this movie is at its best. You can get the main gist and jism quickly. You don’t have to lie squirming in the sticky spots, like our hapless protagonist.  This movie has been a surprise hit on the show circuits; available on Netflix, too.  Recommended.