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Force Majeure, Directed by Ruben Östlund

Plattform Produktion, August 15, 2014 (Sweden)

Screenplay by: Ruben Östlund

Starring: Johannes Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Clara Wettergre], Vincent Wettergren, Kristofer Hivju, and Fanni Metelius

Storm a-brewin’. Blizzard warnings have cancelled Super Bowl parties far and wide. Grocery stores lines are so obscenely long they trigger sudden and unlikely responses from normally sedate, silent shoppers turning the aisle as they realize what awaits them at checkout.

“Are you fucking kidding me?!”

I understand. Jolted from routine, people can do or say the strangest things. Expect the unexpected. I am at home now as the snow swirls white-out conditions outside windows offering equally limited visibility. The screens in front are now completely caked in ice-white. I am on a break between rounds of shoveling, watching the Super Bowl pregame instead. Savannah Guthrie is positively butchering what was supposed to have been a fluff piece with the president about the first home brew made in the White House since the days of George Washington. Apparently, Guthrie has other ideas that match her complete and utter lack of decorum not worthy of the moment nor her profession.

As the hours pile more fresh hell, there is no denying the obvious. The damn blizzard is a whopper. It gives me plenty of time to lose myself in thought as I fling endless scoops of snow atop ever-growing mounds. I am thinking of one aspect of blizzards that always manage to inspire in spite of inevitable back pain or all else. It is incredible just how hard we work hour after hour to keep up with the storm (as if we really can keep up). We try and hold our ground, fighting back early and often armed only with shovels and matter-of-fact resilience. Well, most of us, anyway. In parallel, it also never ceases to amaze how some neighbors routinely shirk the unpleasant responsibilities of hard labor associated with winter cleanup. There are more than a few men on the block who can be found cowering inside, safe, toasty and warm, and even in the aftermath too with 20 inches and 5-feet drifts to attend to. And it isn’t just the men either. Although there are plenty of neighborhood women out on the front lines, there are other women who, judging by observations collected over time, might just have never picked up a shovel in their charmed lives.

I am sweating through base layers upon base layers of thermal undergarments as my mind is on the film Force Majeure that we watched the night before when the storm was still in its infancy. A day later, the film feels a fitting companion to the avalanche Mother Nature has decided to dump upon us. Remembering the painfully awkward dinner scene where Ebba publicly humiliates her husband to shreds in front of another couple, I suddenly have a fantasy of hosting a few of my neighbors for cocktails tonight so that we can play a game of Get the Guests to similarly “out” those who continually go into self-preservation mode when we need them most.

In the days that follow, I read many reviews of Force Majeure that astutely cover key talking points regarding the human nature, our naivety towards forces of nature we think we can somehow manage to control, gender roles (masculinity, in particular), parenting, collapsing marriages, and courage or a lack thereof. The film certainly lends itself to a wealth of topics for worthwhile discourse. But one aspect that seems to be partially missing from the debate or at least not fleshed out completely from what I have read is in relation to the unpredictability that arises in the face of sudden emergency or crisis. For me, it is simply unrealistic to assume we will all turn into a Hemingway Hero and pull a badge of grace under pressure out of our squeaky clean asses. Really, is it fair to be judged so harshly if our immediate reactions in a given situation reveal themselves as less than stoic, less than honorable? Do the registered patterns of behavior that have defined the majority of our lives count for nothing against a more limited, narrow focus that possesses the moral authority to dissect the unpleasant face of self-preservation instincts that can arise in times of panic?

Just as I am an equal opportunity basher of any men and women on the block who ignore their snow shoveling duties, I find myself judging Ebba in Force Majeure too. In some regards, I even find Ebba’s behavior more problematic than that of her husband in the sense that Ebba is afforded time to reflect before reacting as she does. Whereas Tomas’s nature reveals a side clearly less than honorable in the face of sudden crisis, Ebba’s ugliness is more calculated despite the advantage that time has afforded her. Ebba has hours and days—not mere seconds—to reflect, examine, and establish a course of action to help process her emotions. But this does not stop her from humiliating Tomas publicly in the aforementioned dinner scene that is as cringe-inducing as any scene out of Albee with George and Martha holding court.

While I understand Ebba’s angst, I nevertheless find myself judging her harshly. Am I protecting a fellow member of the boy’s club? Is it really because I am a man that I cut Tomas slack and choose to turn the spotlight on Ebba at all? These are a few of the questions that cross my mind as I process my reaction to the film. As of yet, I am not sure I have any answers. I decide it’s time for round four (who’s counting?) outside in the snow. As a man of the house I cannot sit back and let it pile up more a minute longer. Duty calls.