Theater of the Absurd; A form of drama that emphasizes the absurdity of human existence by employing disjointed, repetitious and meaningless dialogue, purposeless and confusing situations and plots that lack realistic or logical development.
Swedish writer/director Ruben Ostlund’s critically acclaimed examination of an upper middle class Swedish family on a ski vacation in the French Alps anchors itself in the tradition of great mid-20th century playwrights such as Beckett, Pinter, Albee and Stoppard, whose work reacted to the perception of a sterile world without apparent meaning or one menaced by outside forces. Alas, that type of angst requires genuine peril and this turgid domestic soap opera offers only characters so self absorbed in their own petty squabbles a viewer could be forgiven for tuning them out.
A mid-thirtyish couple and their two pre-teen children are enjoying lunch on the deck of a restaurant when a small avalanche, required for safety purposes, comes perilously close to engulfing them. Dad panics, deserting his family and returns only when it’s obvious there’s no real danger. Understandably annoyed, his wife chides him for his reaction - - but he adamantly refuses to admit what he did. More upset by his denial than his retreat, she confronts him repeatedly in front of other guests at the hotel until he breaks down and confesses, in front of his bewildered children, that he’s a lying, gutless philanderer. On the final day of their holiday, the family gets briefly separated on a ski run and Dad reassumes his obligation to keep everyone together.
But as they leave the resort via a a bus that will take them down a narrow road to the train station in the valley below, the wife becomes frightened by the driver’s inexperience and insists that the family disembark and walk the rest of the way.
Fadeout; the end.
Ostlund’s cast wrings fleeting bits of irony/humor from the screenplay, but the apparent disintegration of this marriage and the family it undergirds offers little reason to be sympathetic. Dad’s a businessman obviously more interested in his career than in anything or anyone else, while his wife picks at their relationship in front of total strangers in a manner that indicates she’s far more interested in winning arguments than in protecting their relationship. Both would benefit from the bracing advice of essayist Gilbert Keith Chesterton:
How much larger your life would be if your self could become smaller in it…break out of the tiny & tawdry theater in which your own little plot is always played and …find yourself under a freer sky!
The Verdict? A self-conscious, art-house mess. Don’t waste your time.
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