Today: April 15, 2024


Involuntary is essentially a series of five vignettes,
snapshots of the interactions of groups in contemporary Sweden. The stories and
characters are diverse, but are all based around one central theme: the nature
of group dynamics.

We have the man injured at his own party who tries to push
through rather than admit the extent of his injury and ruin everyone else’s
evening. There’s a school teacher who sees a fellow teacher abuse a student and
have to decide whether to follow the other teachers’ quiet conformity or take a
stand against something she knows is wrong. A bus driver who is tired of
disrespect from passengers, and refuses to drive until the guilty party admits
to harming the bus. Two young girls, who prance, preen and strip in front of a
digital camera, desperate to prove to those around them that they’re adults. A
man who, on a reunion with his mates, exploits their willingness to go with the
flow to take advantage of a friend.

The film describes itself as a ‘social comedy of embarrassment’ and plays on
themes that we can all relate to: no matter what age you are, the weight of
social expectation still presses upon you.
A scene right in the middle of the
film sums it up perfectly. The teacher asks a student to choose which of two
lines are longer on a board, but no matter which she chooses the rest of the
students disagree with her. After twice being disagreed with, the student
chooses the shorter line, just to get the approval of her peers.

The film does have some humorous moments
: the story on the bus is particularly
amusing. A recently divorced bus driver appeals to the young tour guide to
explain his ex-wives strange actions, and a well-known Swedish actress has to
figure out a way to deal with the public’s expectations of her. But overall,
it’s misleading to call this film a comedy. It is easily as much a twisted
tragedy as it a comedy as we see the poisonous effects of group dynamics on the

Director Ruben Östlund
comes to feature film making from a skiing background,
where long shots are the only way to show authenticity. He apparently still
thinks in the same way, and many scenes are just one long shot, often taken
from unconventional angles, leaving you able to see only the characters’ feet
or backs. This keeps the viewer interested and engaged, although possibly leads
to confusion for non-Swedish viewers as the subtitles do not always make it
clear who is speaking. The viewer is always reminded that they’re looking in
from the outside, and shots are often through glass panes or seen in a
reflection. Much of the acting is semi-improvised and the dialogue has a very
natural feel.

There is a strange morality at work here, and it is not clear how you are meant
to judge the characters. It seems that standing up to group pressure doesn’t
necessarily pay off, but neither does going along with it. Perhaps Östlund
deliberately created a morally ambiguous film, in order to demonstrate the
impossibility of modern life – as the title suggests, many of our actions are
simply involuntary.

There are interesting ideas behind this film
, but it does drag on, and could do
with being at least 15 minutes shorter.

Marcia Degia - Publisher

Marcia Degia, who has worked in the media industry for more than 20 years, is the Publishing Editor of KOL Social Magazine. See website:

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