There is a great deal to dissect in Force Majeure, a film about masculinity that asks the question, What does it mean to be a man, anyway? And if you aren't one (in any sense other than the genital way), what does that say about your worth?
On a ski trip in the French Alps, the events of an entire weekend are affected by an otherwise inconsequential controlled avalanche. A Swedish family of four becomes briefly startled for their lives as a large, rumbling mass of snow comes down on them as they have lunch; the family's always-working patriarch, Tomas, grabs his phone and runs away in a most cowardly fashion, evoking George Costanza trying to get out of a building on fire. He even pushes another person out of the way to avoid being crushed. He abandons his wife and two children, and this event tells us everything we need to know about Tomas right off the bat.
Tomas's wife, Ebba, takes this event very hard. She is mildly traumatized by the avalanche, but is even more disgusted with her husband, who would have left her and her family in great peril. Ebba cannot stop thinking about this, bringing it up at dinner, to Tomas directly in private, and later when their friends, Mats and Fanny, show up to spend part of the weekend with them.
There is a chain reaction set off by Tomas's less-than-brave action: it ruins Ebba's weekend, making her question their marriage, his worthiness as a man and as a father, and ultimately her own place in the world. Ebba's disgust flows over to a woman she's met on the trip, one who has an open marriage, a concept which makes Ebba all the more disgusted. (Later we find out that Tomas had previously admitted to affairs; this conversation clearly opens up that old wound.) Ebba also starts retroactively questioning aloud whether Tomas cares more about his family or about his job.
When Mats first arrives, he tries to stick up for Tomas, first by justifying his actions, explaining them away as human nature, then by re-framing the act itself as actually one of common sense. (Mats theorizes that Tomas was only running away so he could then safely return to dig out his family.) This song and dance is transparent, and strictly for Ebba's benefit.
Tomas even tries to lie, saying that he didn't just run away; but footage from his own camera phone completely debunks his version. Tomas's own sense of self-preservation (to obfuscate, to deny, to pretend) comes crumbling completely down when he and the other three see proof of his chickenshit action. It's clear that Ebba would have been willing to forgive Tomas if he had simply admitted what he did instead of denying it, but once the video is shown, that option dissolves.
This leads to a beef between Mats and Fanny, the latter questioning whether, since Mats seems to think it's okay, he would run away like Tomas should the situation arise ever arise and Fanny was in peril. Mats and Fanny, now also affected by Tomas's actions, argue for hours. This part is very true to life, and rather hilarious, since we have all been in situations where a small event can lead to an argument that lasts deep into the night.
Tomas is given ample opportunities to re-assert himself as a man: he tries to make a move on Ebba in the common room, but is c-blocked when his son walks in. Moments later, in the bathroom, he is rebuffed. In another scene, Mats and Tomas go skiing, and later hang out and drink beer by the pool: a girl comes up to them to say that her friend thinks Tomas is the best-looking man at he pool. Drunk and a little cocky, Tomas and Mats clink glasses: things seem to be looking up, like in a Bud Light commercial. But just moments later, the girl comes back and, hilariously, tells Tomas that she was mistaken, and her friend had been talking about another guy. Again: manhood denied.
Tomas ultimately breaks down, clearly having a crisis. His crying in the hallway is absolutely pathetic, so much that Ebba -- who had been coercing him into crying to show remorse -- is so embarrassed by the blubbering that she can't even get any satisfaction out of it, and hurriedly tries to discreetly usher Tomas back into the room. (When they realize they are locked out, Tomas and Ebba sheepishly have to ask a custodian -- whom they had previously asked to basically get lost -- to let them in. It's hilarious when selfish people are brought down a peg.)
At this point, even Tomas's kids (who had been furious at him ever since the avalanche) show mercy on him, hugging him in his lowest moment. Here, Ebba finally caves to grant Tomas mercy as well. It's a touching scene, as forgiveness is finally, reluctantly given.
Finally, though, Tomas's manhood has to be restored. The family goes skiing, and Ebba gets left behind. Tomas (bravely, one might say) goes back for her, disappearing into the snow. He returns, dramatically emerging through the white, triumphantly carrying his wife in his arms. (Ebba, having been lowered to the ground, then immediately stands up: she had clearly been testing him, but never addresses or acknowledges it. Again, hilarious.)
This Act of Valor ultimately vindicates Tomas, if not in Ebba's eyes, then in his own. His demeanor changes, and he starts holding his head up high. This fact is punctuated in the film's denouement, on the bus ride back down the mountain. Ebba, heretofore a pillar of strength and moral high ground, gets extremely scared on the precarious bus ride around the twists and turns of the mountain. (She is probably still traumatized by the avalanche.)
Ebba starts carrying on and making everyone on the bus very nervous. Ebba insists on getting off the bus, creating a minor panic among the other passengers. (Mats, who had been having a minor manhood crisis of his own, acquits himself nicely on the bus by keeping calm and promoting order among the human cargo.) As the majority of the passengers get off the bus, and the bus driver zooms safely away, it becomes apparent that all the passengers have a walk ahead of them. Ebba, who had been judging since the avalanche, herself provided a moment of cowardice, and now other strangers have been affected by her fear.
Perhaps it was this turn of events that gave Tomas moral high ground over Ebba, but in the final scene, we see is Tomas leading a pack of pedestrian travelers on the mountain road; he is confident, protectively holding his son's hand. He is offered a cigarette, and at first declines. But after a second thought, he decides he'll take that cigarette after all, thank you very much. Like the Malboro Man, Steve McQueen or Brad Pitt in "Fight Club," Tomas struts down the street, puffing on tobacco like he owns the place.
Tomas's son asks him, "Do you smoke, daddy?" To which he replies, "Yes I do." You're goddamn right you do, Tomas. Because, goddammit, you're a MAN again.