By now, you may have noticed the mass circulation of a clip from Ruben Östlund's Force Majeure. A father Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) appears to flee immediately in the face of an avalanche, his selfish impulse leading him to abandon the rest of his family, including the very children who he told that the avalanche is "controlled." The very sudden escalation of the disaster and its icy comedic undertones—which makes the scene both repulsive and relatable—have turned the video into a viral meme.
Many, however, also seem confused as to whether or not the event is real. Some have offered psychological insights as to why the father's impulse may have kicked in during such a crisis, others argue that the parents should seriously consider getting a divorce. The question of reconciliation, of course, is the very epicenter of Force Majeure, which through Tomas's base response exposes to his family the contingencies and precarious foundation of familial loyalty and the artificiality of the roles that each member performs, stripped away by catastrophe.
The debate regarding the video's reality seems to have been catalyzed by the scene being uploaded by MUBI in its short length (on MUBI in the United Kingdom, the film is showing until June 13). The shortness recalls the brief several seconds-long videos of mundane but brutal events that are staged then spread across the web, like a scuffle in a store or a man whose kicking gets him into trouble with the police.
However, as a spectator, part of the perverse pleasure of these very short and very disconcerting clips (of films, or maybe these can be referred to as films themselves) is the uncertainty, the momentary suspension of both belief and disbelief. Following this is the exposure of perhaps a staging or some fabrication, when the dust settles; but there will always be that initial viewing of the avalanche and the father who ran away, in which the spectator attempts to piece together a truth (or an interpretation, such as "Me watching a bad situation and doing nothing till the final hour") based entirely on what can be perceived via the screen.
Though the actual impact of Orson Welles's 60-minute 1938 radio drama "The War of the Worlds" has been disputed over the years, PBS's documentary of its production emphasizes that the radio listeners were "convinced, if only briefly, [and] the nation [was] left to wonder how they possibly could have been so gullible." A few days have passed since Force Majeure crashed into the Internet at large, and with more time the veil will be further lifted, inviting even more cynicism about the stupidity of people or the pondering about how a "small arthouse film from 2014 gets new life as a meme." Or, you could watch the film in its entirety and see Östlund's assembly of fiction for yourself.