Spoiler Interview: Ruben Östlund on ‘Force Majeure’

The director of one of the most acclaimed films of the year reveals what the ending means, and which two YouTube videos inspired his movie.

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani

 

It was the only film anyone was talking about at the Toronto International Film Festival: Force Majeure, the fourth narrative feature film from Swedish director Ruben Östlund. A disaster movie with a twist: an avalanche that leads to no physical injuries, but nearly destroys a marriage after Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) instinctively flees, leaving his wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) holding her children in fear.

The rest of Force Majeure deals painfully with issues that affect every relationship. The expectations placed on a patriarch that not every man can live up to. The insecurities that lead to powerful resentments. Set against the backdrop of an icy ski resort, Ruben Östlund paints a picture of marital instability and male ego that clash in increasingly devastating ways.

Force Majeure has already won the Un Certain Regard jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and is now Sweden’s official entry for the 87th Annual Academy Awards. CraveOnline got Ruben Östlund to sit down for a lengthy, revealing interview about the film’s origins, its complex ending, the artistic environment in Sweden and the intriguing plot of his upcoming fifth feature, currently titled The Square.

 

Spoiler Warning: This interview deals directly with the plot and ending of ‘Force Majeure.’

 

CraveOnline: It feels to me that there aren’t enough movies that illustrate the fragility of male security and male identity. Is that where this came from? Did someone hurt you?

Ruben Östlund: [Laughs.] I guess it all came from, the core of this or when I realized that this could be a feature film, was out of the incident of the avalanche. Because I had seen a YouTube clip of a lot of tourists sitting at an outdoor restaurant watching an avalanche tumbling down a mountain, and I was interested in the three seconds when the cheering goes from joyful, to nervous laughter, and into total panic. It was so close to those two total different moods. 

I was thinking of reconstructing this scene with a family on that outdoor restaurant, and I told this to a friend of mine and he said, the day after he listened to me telling about it, he was coming back to me and said, “What if the father runs away and leaves his wife and the kids, and has to come back to them later on?” Because it was the same thing, there was no catastrophe. It was only snow smoke coming in.

It looks worse than it is.

Yeah, so immediately when he said that I understood here is something very interesting, because it immediately raises questions about expectations on gender, and the role of the man, the role of the woman. That you as a man should stand up for your family if there is an outside threat. With that as a starting point of the film, it was quite easy to see how Tomas was trying to avoid losing face in front of his family and in front of others, starting this silly lie that you can’t run in ski boots. “I don’t know how you saw it but that was not my experience of it.” Trying to avoid losing his identity as a man. 

 

Force Majeure Worst Man Cry Ever

 

Because the issue for his wife isn’t whether or not he did it, but whether or not he owns up to the fact that he let the family down. 

Yeah. In a way I agree in that, but I also think that… I read an investigation about airplane hijackings, and you could tell out of that investigation that the frequency of divorce is extremely high afterwards. So I think that even though he would admit [to running], it’s like when someone’s cheating on somebody. You can understand it rationally but emotionally they have created a crack in between them. I think this same thing is highlighted with this behavior that Tomas does. I think that you can’t actually blame someone that is doing something when it comes to survival instinct. You are totally put away from your rational thoughts. Yeah, you can’t blame people for that. 

But even though it’s highlighting the expectations of who we should be, when you build up the pressure of he’s not available to talk to anyone about what actually happened, then you can just burst out into the worst man cry ever. Once again you are in contact with something that is quite forbidden for a man to do.

His wife can’t even handle it.

No, no. No.

His kids are hugging him and she just can’t even look at him now. I’m like, “This is kind of what you wanted? What’s wrong with you?” And yet we look at what it takes to protect a family and provide for the people you care for, but in a modern context there aren’t a lot of caveman moments in which you have to defend your family from death.

Exactly.

It’s mostly taking care of them, making sure your kids go to school and aren’t screwed up by the time they leave the house. And yet when it comes down to it, the most important thing is, could you club something for them?

[Laughs.] Yes, exactly!

Who knows? It doesn’t come up.