Film review: Power and The Wave

Photo courtesy of the Norwegian Film Institute Prescient geologist Kristian Eikfjord (Kristoffer Joner) helps an injured neighbor attempt to outrun the wave that will destroy the town of Geiranger in The Wave.

Photo courtesy of the Norwegian Film Institute
Prescient geologist Kristian Eikfjord (Kristoffer Joner) helps an injured neighbor attempt to outrun the wave that will destroy the town of Geiranger in The Wave.

Linda Warren
Washington, D.C.

A director has the power to keep you in the moment. If he uses it well, you are strapped into the roller-coaster world of the movie and experience the thrilling “ups” and the side-busting screaming “downs.” You can’t escape and don’t want to.

The Wave, directed by Norwegian Roar Uthaug, is set in the Geirangerfjord region of Norway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It is the story of a family’s survival. It is also about the power of expansion and contraction in life.

The father, Kristian, a geologist, prepares to move his family—wife Idun, son Sondre, and daughter Julia—to a new job in a big city.

Kristian has spent his career in Geiranger monitoring the Akerneset mountains to prevent another rockslide and tidal wave. The first rockslide was in 1905. The mountain plates expanded and rocks crashed into the fjord creating a tsunami that killed 60 people in a Norwegian town.

The furrows in Kristian’s forehead tell us that for a long time he has focused on preventing another disaster. Kristian has struggled. Now he is ready to surrender to his co-workers the responsibility of saving lives.

Son Sondre is not ready to let go of the home he loves. He sinks into a morbid self-absorption that will have disastrous consequences. Daughter Julia shows an unhealthy compliant lethargy.

Kristian and Idun use different gifts to guide their family through the transition. Kristian is an acute and caring listener. Idun thinks on her feet and solves problems with fierce confidence. She “runs” through the scenes, the camera racing to keep up with her.

We first see Idun’s strong legs sticking out from under the sink as she works to stop a leak. She asks for another wrench. Kristian does not know which is which. Sondre’s slow response hints he won’t be much use in a crisis.

Could Idun’s ability to thrive in a small wet space, without her husband’s or son’s help, be a skill that could save her life? Watch what she does later with her powerful body to push the water out of the bomb shelter and to eliminate a threat to her son.

While Kristian can’t handle a wrench, he can handle data, mountains of it. He is the first one to realize that Akerneset is now collapsing and the resulting rockslide will generate a killer tidal wave at any moment.

Unfortunately, Kristian, overpowered by self-doubt, allows his less-gifted co-workers to talk him out of taking the action he knows will save the town and family he loves.

As the mountain’s plates contract, the family is pulled apart. Separated when the rockslide starts, Kristian and Julia race to higher ground while Idun descends into the hotel basement to save skateboarding Sondre. The music in his headphones drowns out her screams.

Sondre’s behavior hammers home the power of error. Later, Sondre realizes what enormous consequences his actions have had and wants to die. He gives up at the moment his mother needs him most. We hope he turns his guilt into rage and fights with her for a different outcome.

The director missed an opportunity to tie Julia into this theme of power. She is too passive. She suffers, waits, and does what her father tells her. Fasten your seat belt. Hold on. Run! Even a young person can act in a crisis.

Growing up with her energetic parents, she would have ideas. She might put her stuffed toy under her coat to keep it dry when the water covered the road. After the water receded, she could charm the other children into a game to distract them while they waited to hear how their “lost” parents fared in the wave.

Julia’s initiative would have made the reunion at the end of the movie complete. Now, all the family members are heroes—they acted to save one another.

Isn’t this what we would all like to say about ourselves: that we are stronger and better after being hit by one of life’s waves?

Linda Warren has worked as a writer and producer for NBC and ABC affilates. She is a member of Screen Actors Guild and the Writers Guild of America. Her screenplay The National Museum of Driftwood won the gold Remi at WorldFest-Houston in 2014. She has a masters in Journalism from American University in Washington, D.C.

This article originally appeared in the April 15, 2016, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.