Spoiler alert here – don’t read if you are planning to see Ostund’s Force Majeure, although do know that it is a brilliant, deeply dark comedy that leaves you wondering. The film examines – with painful, lingering detail – the psychological aftermath of a family in the wake of (what seems to be) a terrifying avalanche while on holiday in France. The set-up is a very stylish one: Ebba and Tomas and their children Vera and Harry have Boden-catalogue looks, fitting the obviously high-end, minimalist designed ski-hotel they stay in.
Early on, Ebba tells a fellow guest that the holiday is one for Tomas to focus on his family – we swiftly learn how consumed he is by work via his wife’s teasing about his constant iPhone habit. The iPhone becomes a motif for Tomas’s priorities – when the avalanche in question descends, and danger looms, we witness him grabbing it, along with his gloves and hat and running to apparent safety. Ebba and the children are left behind, shrouded in snow dust and the lingering wails of Harry’s ‘Daddy, Daddy!’
At first, things seem to settle back to normal quickly – as soon as the snow dust evaporates, everyone is eating lunch again and the ‘event’ is shrugged off with smiles and sighs (the avalanche stopped short of where they were, and the terrifying whiteness was snow dust rather than snow itself). But the children are clearly furious with their father for abandoning them, and Ebba is hasty in accepting Tomas’ version of events: he flatly denies what we saw. In Tomas’ mind, he didn’t leave the family but stayed beside them, and the close-up camera work (that lingers a bit longer than you’d expect) makes me fairly convinced that he believes his version. Things really unravel later on, when he sees a video (on the iPhone of course) of himself legging it – his version, believed or not, is shattered in front of his wife and two friends.
Was Tomas lying or did he truly believe he was there by Ebba’s side? It’s quite amazing, and brilliant really, what our mind can do to defend ourselves against things that are too painful to process – one’s own cowardice or selfishness included. Trauma is an experience that plays havoc with our memory processing and things can entirely disappear from mental view to protect us. I can relate to this personally – a particular part of a traumatic event in my life vanished from my memory. It was all there but this salient bit, represented only by a blankness in my mind, only to return to me, a few years later with great clarity. My mind had protected me for a while. And in my work as a therapist, I work with scores of people processing traumatic events in their lives, which often involves re-assembling chaotic memories, half-memories or senses into a coherent meaningful narrative. Some people I know would welcome a video to prove themselves or others ‘right’ – in the case of Tomas, I’m not so sure.
Julia Bueno helped found the LPN, and is a member.