Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) and his wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) have taken their two young children, a boy and a girl, on holiday to ski in the Alps, mainly because as a father he doesn't spend half as much time with his family as he feels he should, and this is an opportunity to put his quality time to good use. They have five days, and on the first get lots done, sure the kids get a little tired and cranky, but the great outdoors prove a fine way of bonding the brood together emotionally. However, all that changes the next day when they're having lunch in an open air restaurant and there is a controlled avalanche set off. At first they and their fellow tourists marvel at the sight of all that snow, but then it grows closer and closer until it threatens to engulf them all...
Ah, but it doesn't which makes Tomas's actions so questionable he'll soon be wishing he and his family had been buried under ten feet of snow and ice. Force Majeure, or Turist as it was originally named, was championed by many who responded to its pitch black comedy and musings over human behaviour, but not everyone saw the joke. Indeed, if you didn't crack a smile at the techniques of writer and director Ruben Östlund then it was most likely you were not going to enjoy this film in the slightest, for his main method of making his characters look ridiculous was to observe them from a distance more usually afforded to cold-hearted deities rather than warmly appreciative guardians. If the fact that Tomas would have abandoned his family in blind panic doesn't make you laugh, forget it.
For everyone else, the pivotal scene early on where the cloud of the avalanche hits the restaurant goers and they believe for a few seconds they're going to die only becomes more cruelly funny the more the film dwells upon it. Tomas grabs his phone and gloves and legs it out of there, leaving Ebba and the children screaming in terror, then when it's soon clear it was one big false alarm he saunters back as if nothing had happened. But Ebba knows, and the children know, there's something seriously not right about the manner he has behaved, and the more the days pass the less stable the marriage becomes. Initially Tomas says he and his wife recall the incident differently, but this is the twenty-first century and everything is recorded: the idiot has evidence on his phone that he scarpered.
When Tomas's pal Mats (Kristofer Hivju) arrives for a few days with his younger girlfriend Fanni (Fanni Metelius) the conversation soon turns (by Ebba's worrying at it) to the avalanche farce and Mats finds himself making up absurd excuses for his friend's cowardice, which is funny in itself, but also gets him into trouble with his partner who now wonders if he would have acted the same way with his own kids - or her, for that matter. Masculine identity would appear to be the target here, more undermining of the male ego, as if there wasn't enough of that around already, but the director had bigger fish to fry, and by the end sequence we are asked to put into question everyone we have seen, be they male or female, and note that you cannot simply divide the human race along gender lines when there are so many differing ways they could react depending on their personality, more than what sex they are.
Nevertheless, this obsessing over one mistake is very much like what the media, and that includes social media, does when such a thing is highlighted, this judgemental frame of mind that Östlund at first appears to endorse, then by the time the film is well into its second hour, has laid bare as trying to make sense of human behaviour we are all prone to. It's a tough lesson the characters are going through as the fallout from the incident infects everyone like a disease, and even characters we don't see are affected, as evinced by the unknown person who places a cartoon chicken sticker on the family's door - everyone wants to get in on the act of putting the boot in, and no matter how private Tomas would like his personal crisis to be, it grows increasingly public until he is a grizzling heap of shame and guilt. You could regard this as the end for both his self-esteem and his marriage, yet somehow there's a closure to this which if not happy, is nonetheless settled, yet sobering when inviting us to acknowledge just how pathetic we can be.