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Cinema Series Preview and Interview: Force Majeure - Mid-Atlantic Group Psychotherapy Society (MAGPS)

Cinema Series Preview and Interview: Force Majeure


Saturday, April 7, 2018 – “Force Majeure”


Discussant: Brian Cross, PhD



Brian Cross, PhD will be presenting “Force Majeure” on Saturday April 7, 2018, at Lorraine and Dan Wodiska’s house. The New York Times described it as a “dark Swedish comedy. …Just under the surface of a seemingly blissful marriage run fissures that a sudden jolt can tear open to reveal a crumbling edifice. That’s the unsettling reality explored with a merciless lens in the Swedish director Ruben Ostlund ‘s fourth feature film.” Be sure to bring your long distance glasses for those subtitles. 
Where: Lorraine and Dan Wodiska’s house
            6014 N 28th St.
            Arlington, VA 22207
When: Dinner: 5:45 PM

                Movie:  6:30 PM

And now, please enjoy the Cinema Series Interview with Brian Cross, PhD, and Judy Tyson, PhD.

JUDY: Brian, I’m so glad to have the opportunity to get to know you and talk with you about, Force Majeure. Before we get to the film, tell us a bit about your clinical work and your choice to become a clinician in private practice.

BRIAN: As a therapist, early on, my focus was treating very disturbed children and teens and their family systems. I had been working with seriously emotionally disturbed children when a critical incident moved me to change the focus of my clinical work from school settings to private practice. While restraining a psychotic young boy, a teenager much larger than I hovered over me, threatening me with a small knife. With no staff present, my best intervention was limited to telling this teen that if he cut me he was going to end up in jail. And, he would be fresh meat in jail!

JUDY: A really frightening moment. Stunning. With your clinician’s responsibility and no option to “flee,” this moment truly was a “force majeure” for you. It reminds me of the family in our film. With light hearts they begin a ski vacation and an avalanche disrupts an idyllic moment. Now they have no choice but to face the aftermath of their own “force majeure.” But we can talk about that later.

BRIAN: Yes, for me, that moment with the teen was one of the “avalanches,” of my professional career. Soon after that incident I retreated to what seemed at the time would be a safer clinical environment, private practice. And I’ve been there since.

JUDY: Our backgrounds are somewhat similar. In my early years as a clinician I also worked with emotionally disturbed children and their families. Working with these children was a challenge that defies the imagination. It was truly tough work. So, after some intense experiences, I also, chose to re-tool and continue my clinical work in private practice.

BRIAN: When I began my private practice I evaluated children. Over the years, however, I found working with adults, couples, and group work deeply satisfying and have continued that to the present.

JUDY: Before we focus on the film, what moved you to volunteer to present at a Cinema Series event?

BRIAN: A while ago I went to a Cinema Series evening. A couple presented the film and it looked like it would be fun for me to present a film also.

JUDY: I’m glad to hear that what you saw inspired you to present a film as well. That’s what I hope the Cinema Series events offer us all: opportunities to enjoy one another, learn from one another, and, if we are open to it, be inspired by one another to try out something new, whether it is an activity or an idea.

JUDY: How did you discover Force Majeure?

BRIAN: Well, as a rule I prefer “fantasy entertainment.” I avoid films depicting anything that could remind me of my clinical work. I don’t watch films of struggling couples. Years ago, my lovely wife, Elizabeth, introduced me to this movie. She was watching the film, and I sat down to see a bit of it. I never finished the film then because the premise of the movie…an avalanche….running in fear…the emotional turmoil that ensues, suggested it wouldn’t be a story to promote restful sleep. But it did interest me.

JUDY: And, you did eventually watch the entire film? And found it to have redeeming value?

BRIAN: Yes, The bit I had first seen did interest me. So, later, I watched all of it. And I liked it! “Force Majeure,” starts out slowly. A family is beginning a ski vacation. Then we see their reaction to an avalanche.

JUDY: And, the energy shifts.

BRIAN: Yes. At first the film appears to be a bland story of a family on a ski vacation. But, it shifts. I found Force Majeure to be a very edgy, dark, existential movie.

JUDY: And what drew you to choose it as the film to present to us?

BRIAN: The film’s theme gradually emerges as a study about the limits of our humanity, stereotypic gender roles, the frame of marriage, the pretense of control, and the myriad of circumstances puncturing our lives and providing us ground for evolving. (Wearing my clinician hat, I immediately thought that the star couple in the film would soon be entering therapy).

JUDY: That does sound heavy. And the way you put it, pretty bleak.

BRIAN: But, on the other hand, I also found it to be a seriously funny movie. There were so many comedic moments. I laughed a lot watching it.

JUDY: That was my experience also. Maybe the unexpected comedy helps make the move successful. I agree, the film is “seriously” funny. The funny bits truly are funny; laugh out loud funny; “seriously” funny. For me, there is a serious aspect of some of those funny moments because the comedic moments are about “serious” concerns we can all have of the ego: self-esteem, trust, emotional safety. The director of Force Majeore, Ruben Ostlund, was quoted as saying, “All my films are about people trying to avoid losing face.” This film has numerous vignettes of men and women in their struggle with self-esteem; trying not to lose face. Many of the moments are poignant, troublesome or sad. And many others, while funny, point to issues that can keep us vulnerable, embarrassed, and sometimes ashamed.

BRIAN: In Force Majeure the dichotomy carried by the husband and wife, comes to light once they experience the avalanche and seems to stimulate their divisiveness, secrecy, and shame. The husband carries shame; the wife assumes the vindictive victim; both husband and wife are reluctant to acknowledge self-doubt.

JUDY: To shift a bit; you might be aware that The Cinema Series committee has a commitment to support our MAGPS mission statement. To that end, we’ll have the opportunity in our discussion after the film to connect issues presented in the film with how these issues relate to the personal challenges in today’s socio/political climate. Can you relate any of the film’s themes to present day concerns?

BRIAN: It is challenging to not let our differences separate us. We have all, at times, been tempted to take the road more traveled by separating ourselves from each other. We see in this film that, once jarred by a force majeure, the husband and wife find themselves doing just that with one another.

JUDY: The characters in the film struggle to cope with the after-shock of a force majeure. The struggle to maintain their equilibrium and “save face” polarizes them. In our discussion after the film, we will have an opportunity to consider whether any of the themes and concerns in the film remind us of challenges and struggles in our social and political life today. We’ll have a conversation about times we have been triggered by what may have been an unrecognized “force majeure,” that moved us to reactivity and projections; when we realize we could not tap into our wisdom. We can talk about the challenges currently facing our society politically and how those challenges also touch us socially, at times even in our inner circle. We can reflect on what appears as chaos caused by the disequilibrium of our times. I look forward to facilitating what I hope will be a meaningful conversation for all of us.

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