Turist (Force Majeure, 2014)
Ruben Östlund dismantles the nuclear perfect iconic family as the predominant father figure fails to support his socially imposed gender role.
Ruben Östlund started his career directing ski films and his official debut work as a director was a short documentary entitled Låt dom andra sköta kärleken (Let the others deal with love, 2001) that was entirely shot in the Alps. Almost 15 years later, the Swede helmer returns to his beloved Alps and their famed ski resorts for his fourth feature film Turist (Force Majeure, 2014). The film participated at the 67th Cannes Film Festival in the section Un Certain Regard where it won the Jury Prize.
Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke), a hectic businessman, decides to dedicate some time to his wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and their two children Vera and Harry. For that reason the family will spend five days in a high-class ski resort of the French Alps. The idyllic vacations will be ruined just the second day. During their lunchtime the family observes a seemingly controlled avalanche that suddenly goes out of control and heads towards them. Ebba grabs the kids while Tomas takes his cell phone and runs away. As it happens the avalanche didn’t reach them but it was just snow mist that covered everything. Despite its actual insignificance, this incident will trigger the couple’s fragile balance as their bigger internal crisis starts.
The whole story is almost a farce; a perfect high society family that could only exist in advertisements falls apart due to a misinterpreted natural event. Their theoretical invulnerability is wiped out when the instincts surpass their social imposed gender roles. Östlund always enjoys provoking his audience through his heroes by setting a dialogue on an uncomfortable issue. This time it’s the father – male figure that needs to be attacked in juxtaposition with his social aspect. The society has set some definitive roles to each gender. When someone fails to satisfy these – sometimes – high reached goals then he should either apologize or break. This is what happens with Tomas. He fails to be the exemplary figure that suits to his impeccable family and for that reason he must pay for it. Otherwise their “Scandinavian” model will fall apart. Tomas follows different ways to deal with his problem, from denial and facts’ distortion, to aggression and then even to break-down; he does whatever it takes to preserve the status that his society has set for him. Of course, once more, he fails.
What Östlund suggests is that, the nuclear family that everybody admires and envies has no real and actual threats, hence they should be created. Western society doesn’t leave any space for survival dramas, so when someone has to face an actual frightening event then he forgets all the rules. Instead of a simple couples’ argue, what comes as an aftermath of Tomas’ action, is an analysis of the event that reaches the verges of psychoanalysis. This process does more harm, especially when it is followed by an overanalyzed satisfactory conclusion like the one that Tomas’ friend Mats (Kristofer Hivju) prefers. Everyone should receive an answer that will fit to his story and this is almost impossible. What’s even worse is that the victims of these social conventions are not limited to the father. Ebba who as a mother should preserve the stability of the family, cannot explode and she doesn’t even express herself when she has to do so. In order to transfer her true thoughts and wishes to her husband, she must be drunk or among strangers. As she is incapable to control herself with her method abuses Tomas and almost emasculates him. This happens because when she’s sober or alone with him she cannot react. Their common social status forces them to have a common point of view, a similar way of thinking and without even realizing it they are both doomed.
Taking into account all the elements and the fact that Force Majeure is a Swedish film, the comparisons with Ingmar Bergman are almost inevitable. As it is known, Bergman also enjoyed dismantling and decaying upper classed father figures, but this is almost where all the similarities end. Bergman blamed the fathers for all the suffering of their families while Östlund victimizes the father and maybe sometimes feels sorry for his position. Also Bergman worked on his dramas from a bleak aspect that also sustained some subtle and subconscious comic elements; Östlund goes exactly the opposite way Force Majeure is a deadpan comedy that has some serious dramatic aspects. Furthermore and due to its thematic, the film could probably feel closer to Michael Haneke’s Emotional Glaciation Trilogy, with an added dash or humor. As Haneke could suggest, it is the society that destroys the members as the nuclear family burns internally while the frozen surrounding enhances the deterioration. The avalanche which was initially used as the perfect excuse for an emotional outbreak can also cover any mistake under the unblemished white snow. There is just one issue with that flawless plan, when the snow melts, the problems will still exist and then they will demand an urged but realistic solution.
Force Majeure acts as Ruben Östlund’s tour de force where he expands his cynically sarcastic sadism to another level. He doesn’t need to explain or justify the destruction of the Holy Family; probably everybody knows the reasons. He prefers to observe it as it happen while sardonically blends Antonio Vivaldi’s summer lightness and hope in the middle of this emotional frigid winter.