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In Case of No Emergency: Force Majeure and the Bystander Cinema of Ruben Östlund

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If anything, it’s clear from Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund’s oeuvre that he enjoys watching people squirm. From the characters in his movies to the audience itself, Östlund revels in eliciting protracted moments of discomfort. And yet, these moments aren’t due to the typical cinematic purveyors of discomfort- high Hitchcockian suspense, or gruesome depictions of horror and violence. Instead, Östlund preys (with uncanny verisimilitude) on humanity’s most banal behaviour; the moments where we weren’t at our best, the moments where we were less than ideal, the moments in hindsight that we would’ve liked to have back. And in many ways, his latest film, Force Majeure, represents the culminated pinnacle of this cinematic practice. Not only does it incorporate many of the behavioural themes Östlund has been exploring since his earliest work, but it also never digresses from its topical focus, confidently engaging the audience thematically without ever fragmenting or obscuring the narrative with overt formalism. Instead, Östlund’s formalism in Force Majeure is more refined and pristine than ever before, beautifully finding cinematic harmony with the film’s content, while maximizing its dialectical ability. In short, it is his greatest work to date, and seemingly one which he’s been building towards for years.

Set in the French Alps, Force Majeure tells the story of a nuclear family from Sweden on a ski vacation. Tomas, the patriarch, has apparently been working too hard, and the trip thus offers some much needed time with family- Ebba, his wife, and their children Harry and Vera. Things go awry early however, when the crest of a ‘controlled’ avalanche freakishly hurtles towards them at the resort’s restaurant. Initially incredulous to its impending arrival, Tomas bolts from the table at the last second, leaving his wife and children to fend for themselves. What follows is our witness to a painfully and comedically drawn out (masculine) identity crisis for Tomas.

In some respects, the setting of Force Majeure is a return to where Östlund first started out; cutting his teeth by making ski films in the 1990s (Free Radicals I & II). The films were mostly expositions in courageous skiing, though they certainly gave Östlund experience shooting in the mountains, and led him back to film school where he began work on his first feature, The Guitar Mongoloid (2004). The film takes place a world away from the lives of jet-setting skiers, focusing instead on the preoccupations of people eking along on the fringes of Swedish society. The titular character at the centre of it all is a part-time child busker named Erik, who smokes, cusses, and sings off-key bastardizations of songs that he plays on his guitar. Compared with Force Majeure, The Guitar Mongoloid is extremely loose narratively, appearing more as a randomized documentary of various people who Östlund may-or-may-not know in a thinly veiled Gothenburg. However, it does immediately lay out many of the formalist and behavioural themes which Östlund would continue to refine throughout his work. Constructed as a series of vignettes fragmented into alternating tableaus of static, deep-focused shots, the film deals with such behavioural themes as gang/group mentality (there is a group of teenage boys who continually vandalize bicycles), masculinity, and the responses of bystanders to events which threaten to push them out of their respective comfort zones (such as the reactions of people on public transit to unruly passengers). Östlund seems especially fascinated by the organic responses elicited in such latter scenarios, and it’s easy to understand why- they’re almost never in keeping with the idealized vision we have of ourselves. Instead, these responses tend to show our uglier or weaker sides just below our favoured facades. Put another way, Östlund’s is like the cinema of the selfie we didn’t share. And yet because it’s cinema- it’s the video of us taking the selfie we didn’t share. He even captures such a moment in his second feature, Involuntary (2008), when two teenage best friends pop gum and pose for the isight camera in their computer. They too will make their way onto public transportation, drunkenly provoking other passengers.

Östlund’s proclivity for a static camera provides an air of realist objectivity to his unfolding scenarios, documenting any incidental escalation from start to finish. It also adds to the discomfort of said scenarios, evoking the claustrophobic sense of being trapped therein. Indeed, the characters are placed in situations they know they’ll have to endure, yet which they have no interest in being in. This is precisely why Östlund’s continual use of public transit as an uncomfortable conduit works so well- almost everyone can relate to feeling vulnerable on a bus when it’s between stops and another passenger becomes belligerent. This relatability makes the unfolding escalation of events all the more painful for the characters and audience alike, as the characters have no escape, and we the audience have no opportunity to look elsewhere. We are resigned to sit through whatever the characters are resigned to sit through. And many of the scenarios Östlund depicts are not quite as vacuous as bad guitar playing or unshared selfies either. He often creates (or recreates) slow-building incidents. The likes of which will sure to be talked about by the character-participants for years to come.

One of the most unsettling incidents from Involuntary takes place between a group of male friends on a boys’ camping trip. Östlund tends to excel in depictions of the macho bonding and horse-play of men; their micro-aggressions, intimidations, jockeying, one-upmanship, homophobia-cum-homoeroticism, and escalating pack behaviour. In the Involuntary scenario, as the booze flows and behaviour intensifies, we see a scene wherein four of the guys walk past a field. One member, Olle, veers off to relieve himself. When he does, party-animal Leffe chases Olle into the field, “joking” that Olle is ‘gonna get sucked.’ While the homophobic bullying-as-a-gag is (unfortunately) not all that unusual amongst such a group, Leffe’s tenacity at chasing Olle down quickly crosses the line and becomes all too realistic for Olle, who repeatedly admonishes Leffe, effectively telling him to cease and desist. And yet, to the laughter of the other guys -who are still taking Olle’s situational discomfort as a joke- Leffe does not. Tackling him like a rugby player, Leffe enlists another one of the other friends and they both hold Olle down in the field. Östlund, of course, never changes his framing. His shot is a static landscape tableau, taken from high afar, and remains motionless throughout the entire ordeal, without cutting or using other angles. At this point, it means that we cannot see exactly what is happening, and yet at the same time, we are also becoming very well aware: what we are watching constitutes rape. The forced oral-sex doesn’t last long before Olle breaks free and gets up running. The others, still assuming it was all in good fun, merely interpret Olle’s exit as a sign he took ‘the joke’ too seriously and is now upset. However, we as the audience are indignant- what we’ve just been witness to was a crime, and yet its build up was eerily normalized.

It’s the kind of transgressive behaviour which men tend to shrug off as ‘boys will be boys,’ (and Olle tries), but when placed under sunlight is deeply troubling. Hence, Östlund’s genius for its depiction is allowing the situation to unfold as organically as it might in real life; making the audience somewhat complicit in the escalation as a witness; everyone is free to see how at various steps in the build up to the ‘incident’ no one stopped to pull the proverbial alarm. Indeed, vignettes like these are perfect illustrations in how events which seem patently condemnable in hindsight (by outside/third parties) always seem to have merely ‘gotten out of hand’ to the people actually involved. This is painfully clear when Olle tries to explain what has happened to his girlfriend. He spends most of the time playing things off, rationalizing, and confusedly chuckling to himself, trying to decide whether the violation and humiliation he feels is even worth making a fuss about. Part of this too plays perfectly into the stigma of male-on-male sexual assault; not only does Olle have trouble taking his own assault seriously, but his girlfriend, who’s initially taken aback by the ‘weirdness’ of it, ends up chuckling about it too, despite her moral misgivings. After all (they reckon), it may have been upsetting and unwanted, but it was ‘joke’ fellatio, and despite having called his girlfriend to drive two hours to pick him up, part of Olle clearly still feels a strong pull to get over it and go back to have more fun with the gang.

One of the additionally interesting things in the assaulting tableau was that we could always keep tabs on the one friend who kept his distance on the road, never participating in the incident. He represents one of Östlund’s signature bystanders who watches the incident unfold with stunted recognition of what’s happening, conflicted as to what he should or shouldn’t do. When Olle runs away, the bystander begs the question- “he was still laughing, right?” This ‘stunted recognition-cum-reluctance to get involved’ motif makes up the entirety of Östlund’s subsequent short film, An Incident by a Bank (2010). In it, Östlund recreates a botched bank heist in Stockholm. The shot itself begins as one of his regular static tableaus, yet this time Östlund becomes more active, zooming in and out, and panning to different parts of the frame to isolate certain action and audio. This isolating technique is vaguely reminiscent of Robert Altman’s roaming work, and travels mainly between the klutzy robbers and two male friends who witness the incident in its entirety. The 11 minute film unfolds with the two pals beginning to recognize a robbery is about to take place. Yet, they do nothing to foil it, nor do they apparently even call the police (though they confusedly discuss whether they should). They merely keep their distance and watch the event unfold like it was television; filming it for good measure on one their phones. While even a description of these events may offer a privileged black-and-white account in hindsight, Östlund manages to relate the action of the bumbling friends as entirely plausible to the viewer. Indeed, the viewer is positioned to realize that they too may have acted the exact same way given the surreality and confusion of a similar scenario in real life. This is easy to understand, as Östlund offers no prior narrative information to the viewer and lets the action unfold in real time. In this way it’s a perfect formal exercise for Östlund; another successful attempt at procuring a bystander’s reflection from the audience.

This increasingly active style of tableau-shot is also how Östlund open’s his third feature, Play (2011). The film further examines male group mentality, but this time by way of adolescents. Like The Guitar Mongoloid and Involuntary, Östlund largely sticks to static frames, however, he (generally) opens up his visual planes more, relying less on obstruction and off-screen space, while allowing for more direct visual recognition of his characters’ faces (there are even a couple close-ups). He also begins to streamline his narrative, picking one main scenario instead of using multiple fragmented vignettes, and digressing only sporadically from the linear course of action. The effect is a more focused narrative, with a happier balance of form and content.

Inspired by court records of a good cop / bad cop game practiced by a gang of teens in Stockholm between 2006-2008, Play depicts five teenage boys who effectively mug three younger boys over the course of a day. The younger boys initially try to evade the tailing gang, reaching parents’ answering machines and even asking for help at a local café, but yet again Östlund masterfully depicts how bystanders on the periphery of the unfolding events manage to neglect the situation, partially through their initial lack of perception for the severity of the situation, and ultimately their disinterest in being involved and/or putting themselves in harm’s way. This of course includes some of Östlund’s requisite public transit scenes, including one wherein a member of the gang gets beaten in full view of other passengers for opting out of the continuing hustle.

However, beyond the greater openness of the cinematographic form, what progressed Play beyond Östlund’s other work was the greater engagement with its thematic complexity. As opposed to Involuntary’s troubling, but temporally limited vignettes, Play’s singular narrative gave Östlund more room to dissect the inherent topical issue embedded in the protracted incident. And this was certainly called for, especially considering it was the kids from (presumably) underprivileged origins, or disadvantaged societal positions, who were depicted as the aggressors to the meek and innocent visible-majority kids. Indeed, in Play, the bullying gang of 5 were made up of black boys, and the preyed upon group of three were made up of two white native-Swedish boys and a boy of asian heritage. Considering that Sweden is one of the most active countries in accepting immigrants and refugees in Europe, and has also had its recent share of struggles with cohesion, the film was bound to cause a stir. It’s the kind of depiction which progressives might worry could not-only perpetuate negative stereotypes, but be used as fodder to increase xenophobia (once the audience leaves the theatre). Yet, the scenario is by no means implausible -any group of boys might pick on any another group of boys with weaker numbers- and while concerns of stereotyping are certainly understandable, the film never becomes didactic. Östlund is still more interested in the verisimilitude and (universal) behaviouralism of the event, again making it all uncomfortably relatable for anyone who’s ever been bullied by anyone else (regardless of race).

While the depiction brought controversy, what brought layered complexity was that Östlund begins to integrate the inevitable controversy of the movie into the movie. This gets dramatized in the film when one of the mugged kids (while strolling with his father) spots one of the thieves. Informing his father, the parent approaches the bully and accosts him, physically grabbing hold of the boy and demanding the return of his son’s cell phone. While the audience is privy to the boy’s guilt (on the micro level), the optics are immediately concerning on the macro level- a white male patriarch oppressing a young boy of colour. It reads almost like what Östlund might have been accused of were things not made more complicated. However, Östlund does complicate them. The confrontation is witnessed by a female bystander and her friend. And unlike most of Östlund’s bystanders thus far, the woman involves herself, almost acting as an avatar for a progressive audience who might cry foul over the film’s subject matter. While the father defends his actions, and tries to dismiss her by arguing she wasn’t privy to the context of the precipitating situation, she challenges him that ‘immigrants already have it twice as hard’ in Sweden, implying that any delinquent behaviour on the part of the boy may have been understandable due to his (likely) victimization at the hands of society.

In a sense, the scene becomes a fascinating microcosm of a larger argument taking place in many Western societies about individual responsibility vs systemic discrimination- while it may be true that the boy has been a troublemaker, is it his fault or society’s? It’s likely not a coincidence that in the scene, the protecting & nurturing voice is that of a female, and the voice of individualistic responsibility is that of a male. These sorts of stereotypical gender dynamics are played briefly in one scenario at a school in Involuntary, and are again taken up as a major point of interest in Force Majeure, with the actors of Tomas and Ebba even bearing resemblance to the man and woman arguing in Play. Regardless, her point is temporarily heeded; the audience should refrain from any errant extrapolations. And yet, Östlund isn’t even content to leave it at that. He adds a few more dialectical layers of complexity. One of the next things we see is John, one of the bullied threesome, playing a new clarinet at a school talent recital. As we’ve just gone from the bystander’s pedagogical outlook of systemic victimization of immigrants, being reminded of the mild-mannered John (who is of asian background) somewhat derails the broad reductionism of her argument. For here we see another immigrant, as well adjusted as any of his native-Swedish pals, totally integrated, excelling in class.

Were this to be the final word, it might certainly appear to be a capping (racist) statement by the film. i.e. If not all Swedish immigrants behave the same way, it cannot simply be society that is to blame for the troublemaking behaviour of the bullying boys. However, it isn’t the final word. Instead, when we see John playing clarinet, we are also reminded that not only was his previous clarinet the most expensive item stolen, but John was wearing the most expensive clothing at the time of the mugging (much is made of his coveted Diesel jeans), and now of course, he has a new expensive replacement clarinet. From this we can take away at least two things- the incident has left John no worse for wear (financially), and that indeed, the intersectional factor of class might be playing a critical role in the behaviour of the boys. It’s the last note in a complex depiction of events inspired by reality, and it seeks to engage with any unwanted pronouncements of what came before it in the film. Nonetheless, the film’s reception was apprehensive, likely because so much of the narrative was preoccupied with the uncomfortable incident itself before it delved to the appending debate. In Force Majeure however, the post-incident debate is the bulk of the movie. Indeed, despite being the longest and most focus narrative, it’s the film with the shortest and most innocuous incident. It’s also the one that’s grappled with the most after the fact.

Like Play, Force Majeure takes one incident-driven scenario and blows it up. Yet whereas Play still jumped back and forth to a loosely related symbolic subplot about a baby’s crib on a train, Force Majeure never digresses, making it the most linearly appreciable and narratively honed feature in Östlund’s oeuvre. Ironically, the same progressive viewers who had difficulty with Play will likely have an easier time lapping up Force Majeure, for instead of the troubling incident being undertaken by some young black teenagers, the crosshairs of depiction are now squarely aimed at the emblem of privilege and systemic privilege- the white male patriarch. At the very least, there’s no doubt the female bystander near the end of Play would be loving Force Majeure, as the film plays as an eviscerating cross-examination of a patriarch’s actions. And like Play, part of makes it so squeamishly effective is that Östlund gives the audience full witness to the unfolding events, thus allowing them to see which side of the story (or the precipitating incident) is factually accurate. In other words, in Force Majeure we know the wife is right about the husband’s actions at the table during the avalanche. Those actions, of course, were to abandon her and the children when the avalanche got too close. What makes this such an extra fascinating scenario for Östlund is that normally the incidents in his films are instigated (or escalated) by the characters themselves, whereas this time around the catalyzing incident is an act of nature outside of anyone’s control (hence the title Force Majeure). Thus, everyone would be a victim, except that in fleeing the scene, Tomas effectually turns himself (and perhaps masculinity) into the proverbial bystander of the incident.

When Tomas returns to the table after the settling of the avalanche smoke, the impending waves of shame and guilt accompanying the realization of his own circumstantial cowardice cause him to pretend like nothing happened. Or at least, that is what he chooses to do. Unable to admit to himself how he failed as a fatherly hero, he finds himself incapable to do the same with his wife. And from there he makes things harder on himself, digging a deeper and deeper hole of denial, while inversely making any admission of guilt more and more unlikely. His wife, Ebba, shaken from the incident and upset at his situational impotence, withdraws from him, opting to ski alone. Not only is she quietly incensed by Tomas’s petulant attempts at avoiding the truth, but one can also sense her attraction for him dwindling; her gendered expectations of Tomas as the family’s white-knight hero having been demonstrably annulled. In her understandable need to vocalize her thoughts on the matter, and perhaps to win sympathy for her incredulity with Tomas, Ebba begins talking about the incident amongst third parties; cornering Tomas publicly, wherein he continues to deny, dismiss, and defend the allegations of contractual -paternal- failure at the time of the incident.

This is all set against the backdrop of Östlund’s most dynamic and lavish cinematography yet. It continues on the path he was forging for himself in Play, wherein he opened up more shots to subjective framing. While his wider landscape tableaus remain -elegantly showcasing the mountains without obstruction- there are more close ups and cuts than ever before, giving it the most intimate feeling of any of his work. This also allows us greater access to the psychological states of the couple, as the mirror of satire gets held to the self-saving husband.

Tomas’s patronizing rhetorical methods by which he tries to invalidate his wife’s ‘side’ of the story are bound to beautifully conform to (and affirm) any characterization of male posturing. This posturing becomes even more farcical when the couple’s visiting friend, Mats, attempts to diffuse the situation. At first he offers a rational perspective, reminding the couple of the unpredictability of human reaction to chaos. However, when Ebba uses Tomas’s iPhone video as incriminating evidence of his guilt -the proverbial selfie he didn’t want to share- Mats goes so far as to offer Tomas a fantastical alibi of fleeing the avalanche for the anticipatory purpose of being free to dig the family back out. With Mats’ girlfriend (Fanni) already sympathizing with Ebba, the optical gender lines are clearly drawn, making the men look desperately pathetic in their attempts to save (Tomas’s) face. This binary grouping further backfires on Mats, when (having left Ebba and Tomas’s room) Fanni rhetorically asks what Mats would do in a similar situation. It effectively takes the situation from being one about Tomas’s inability to face his own cowardice to a question about masculinity in general.[1] Mats (a divorced father) counters that he would do anything for his kids. To which Fanni then makes the point that if we was willing to do anything for his kids- why was he on a ski trip with her? It’s not a point that sits well with Mats, who spends the entire night sleepless, belabouring the quip and trying to defend his honour.[2] Ultimately, it only makes him appear unnecessarily defensive as well, playing further into the behaviouralism of the bruised male ego.

In an attempt to alleviate his friend from the pits of despair, Mats encourages Tomas to let out a primal scream as therapy on -where else than the last vestige of Nietzschian male solitude- the top of a mountain where no women can be seen for miles. Tomas tries, but even the top of the world he finds he can’t hide from himself. Licking their wounds, the two men hit the outdoor patio bar for a pint to bask in the sun. And for a moment, Tomas experiences a small inflation of ego- a woman comes over to tell him that her friend thinks he’s the ‘hottest’ guy at the bar. Here Östlund demonstrates his increasing deftness at matching form and content; while the initial framing is a characteristic static tableau, Östlund slowly zooms towards the men in correspondence with their ego boost. The effect is a playfully comedic one, especially considering the woman sharply returns to take back the compliment, telling Tomas she had meant someone else. With his compliment revoked and his masculine identity hanging in the balance, Tomas (or his psyche) is upended by the physical manifestation of visual masculinity- a rowdy mob of bare chested frat boys yelling, fist-pumping, dousing themselves in beer, pushing and shoving each other in a club, and unleashing aggressive primal screams that make Tomas’s earlier attempt look like a sputtering puppy-yelp. Exhausted, emasculated, and with no chance to dig himself back out of the hole he’d already dug, Tomas finally admits the truth to himself (and Ebba); breaking down in a blubbering pile of tears, his ego obliterated, the facade of his cultivated identity shattered, and his existential cries sounding like those of a wailing child’s.

For those ready to chalk the entire episode up as a simple critique of masculinity, Östlund again has other things in mind. Like Play, he muddies the waters to avoid any overly didactic interpretation. First there are some minor heroics by Tomas on the family’s last ski run when Ebba, skiing at the rear of their chain, gets stuck up the hill in the blinding conditions. Tomas runs up the hill after her, and brings her back down, gallantly carrying her in his arms. She’s no worse for wear once reunited with the kids, and casually marches back up the hill to fetch her skis; implying that at the very least, Tomas happily overcompensated by unnecessarily picking her up (if the whole thing itself wasn’t partially staged by the parents). However, in the final scene, with all parties aboard the departing coach, yet another threatening situation presents itself: still high in the mountains, driving on winding narrow roads down an uncomfortably steep mountainside, the coach driver proves incompetent, repeatedly perching the vehicle precariously close to the edge of the abyss. With most passengers beginning to worry, though still remaining generally calm (including Tomas), Ebba proves herself to be jumpy, demanding the bus driver let her off. He does, and Ebba hops off the coach without her children. The moment isn’t made to be a protracted or precious one, but it’s no accident on Östlund’s part, and is thus a noteworthy one. Then with another lurch of the coach, the rest of the passengers begin to panic, beginning a dangerous stampede for the door. With chaos ensuing, Mats proves true to his earlier projected image of himself, acting in the stereotypically selfless and heroic manner expected of a man in an emergency- he keeps his cool and impedes the stampede when he authoritatively commands that women and children be allowed off the bus first (and everyone in a single file). While the moment might be taken as a small vindication for manhood, this too would be facile read of the film, because considering Ebba’s somewhat contradictory action, the coach incident acts more as an indication of Mats’ earlier hypothesis that nobody knows for sure how they’ll respond in a given crisis situation when survival mode kicks in.

This seems to echo Östlund’s own thoughts on the matter. Indeed, in early press for the film, Östlund has said just that- nobody knows how they’ll react.[3][4] Moreover, his read doesn’t seem to be as much a critique of masculinity, rather than a commentary on gendered expectations of masculinity. In particular, Östlund describes how people have come to expect men to act in certain situations, and when they fail to live up to those expectations, it can be confusing and detrimental for relationships. He cites research suggesting that divorce rates tend to spike after airplane hijackings.[5] And certainly, it looks as though things for Ebba and Tomas are headed in that direction, as one can’t imagine how Ebba in particular will regain her respect for Tomas’s masculinity, and thus, her attraction for him.

And yet, all this for what? Nothing has happened. Everyone in the family is safe. To accentuate this paradoxical point, Östlund was apparently going to have the subtitle: “In Case of No Emergency” written under the film’s main title, “Force Majeure.”[6] Indeed, no emergency has actually taken place in the film. And Tomas is by all accounts a good, modern father, who dotes on his children with sensitivity and warmth. He may have acted impulsively in a freak occurrence, but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t love his wife and children. And while the methods with which he rhetorically tried to save himself may ring stereotypical bells of patriarchal posturing, desperately attempting to save oneself from soul-crushing guilt is not the exclusive territory of masculinity. Thus the fissures created by Tomas’s momentary lapse of heroism only really exist in the minds of he and Ebba. But it’s their reactions to his hiccup which will ultimately hurt the children, as Ebba and he will be alright, even if they go their separate ways. The children on the other hand, are likely to be more affected. And Östlund tries to remind us of this along the way, showing the budding resentment of the kids to the adults, along with the parental negligence caused by the adults’ self-absorption. The kids begin to spend more time on their iPads and watching television than they do skiing. They hold each other in tears while their parents fight. They’re given ice cream to eat when their parents wake up hung over after drunken rows. They’re shoved into their hotel room with the housekeeping man when the adults are preoccupied, etc etc. Indeed, they are the victims in this non-emergency. Harry even vents his displeasure by flying his drone into the living room when things are getting uncomfortably tense between the adults.[7]

However, Östlund allows for a glimmer of hope. Tomas, having cried himself anew, is seen to take his first steps of a fresh start. In a subtly symbolic end to the film, one of the fellow passengers -now walking alongside Tomas and Harry- offers Tomas a smoke. Tomas, still instinctually adhering to his trained mode of facade-friendly paternal moralism, declines the cigarette in front of his son. And then, embracing his born-again self-honesty, recants and asks for the smoke after all. Harry, clearly never having seen this before (which is also to say, Tomas has likely spent his children’s lifetime concealing his smoking habit) asks his father if he smokes, to which Tomas admits, both to Harry and himself, “Yes, I do.” It’s a small moment on the screen, but a significant moment of self-affirmation for the father. They walk on with the rest of the bus’s passengers -men, women, and children- everyone in it together.

It’s a fitting and sublime end to Östlund’s most accomplished narrative film; a film which works as the culmination of all his cinematic output thus far. From The Guitar Mongoloid through to Force Majeure, Östlund has refined his formalistic approach to cinema, while honing his ability to functionally elicit the kind of awkward bystander reflection from the audience that he so desires. Meanwhile, his thematic examinations have grown more complex and challenging as he streamlines his narratives to give what were once vignettes their full breadth onscreen. His is a cinema of humans acting in ways which undermine their ideal self-images. The films can be disquieting and discomforting, forcing reflections of ourselves which we’d normally avoid given the chance. It’s the cinema of the selfie we didn’t share, and at the ripe old age of forty, Östlund has seemingly perfected it. Indeed, with Force Majeure he reaches an exclusive echelon of filmmakers, for he’s just made his first masterpiece.

 

 References

[1] Here too is a parallel with the discourse in Play, wherein the female bystander takes things from being about a singular thief to being about larger injustices.

[2] Ironically, Mats’ ski trip away from his kids seems no different than that of Ebba’s friend Charlotte, who’s positioned as a modern and empowered woman for taking time away from her kids.

[3] Knight, Curtis. Ruben Östlund’s Avalanche is just the First Threat of Force Majeure. National Post, Movies. Oct 29, 2014. http://arts.nationalpost.com/2014/10/29/ruben-ostlunds-avalanche-is-just-the-first-threat-in-force-majeure/#__federated=1

[4] Lattanio, Ryan. ‘Force Majeure’ Ruben Östlund Answers 10 Questions. Indiewire. Nov 10, 2014. http://blogs.indiewire.com/thompsononhollywood/force-majeure-director-ruben-ostlund-answers-10-questions-20141021?utm_campaign=force-majeure-director-ruben-ostlund-answers-10-questions-20141021&utm_medium=social&utm_source=Facebook&utm_content=force-majeure-director-ruben-ostlund-answers-10-questions-20141021

[5] ibid.

[6] ibid.

[7] Incidentally, this is another exceptional moment of form and content matching each other by Östlund, as he literally and figuratively cuts through the tension by cutting to the inboard black-and-white camera on the drone, as it knocks over wine and crashes into Mats.

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