Involuntary begins with a father taking a firework in the face at his wedding anniversary, after declaring said firework to be completely safe. After walking back into the house with both his visage and dignity more than a little bruised, Father continues to celebrate his nuptials with his wife, despite all the evidence and the guests suggesting he should go to the hospital. His fears that the evening will be ruined lead him to carry on as normal regardless. He sees disapprovement all around him and maybe to a greater extent, he sees people questioning his own masculinity and pain endurance. That all this is in his head is apparent, but soon, his behaviour convinces others that he’s fine and soon no one else wants to make a fuss. Such is the power of group behaviour.
This is just one of five stories that play in front of us; each one showing the actions of group behaviour. Two teenage girls go for a night on the town, each seeking to prove how much more mature they are than the other; a teacher is pressured into not blowing the whistle on a colleague who beats a student who is despised by the rest of the faculty; a famous actress on a coach witnesses the frustration of her fellow travellers when the driver refuses to move until the vandal of a toilet steps forward; and a blokey weekend in the country comes to a brittle end when a game from their youth raises its head again.
Director Ruben Östland’s scenes roll by without any attempt of a cut. Often the camera is positioned in a manner as to make viewing difficult. We’re not told what to look for, we have to search for it ourselves. In essence, we become part of the group, struggling to listen in on whispered lines and staring at the back of heads. As people talk over each other, it’s like everyone in the film has decided you’re not allowed to play anymore, so welcome to Coventry. Other times, we find ourselves waiting for the characters to catch up with us, and we stand in country lanes, watching them talk amongst themselves. Does this make Involuntary feel stilted? In a sense, yes, there are a number of long pauses. But then that’s why it feels completely natural as well. Dialogue with regular human beings that aren’t played by Bruce Willis or Morgan Freeman doesn’t mean waiting for the other person to finish so we can say our bit. Sometimes we want to talk over the masses and be heard; sometimes we just let ourselves be talked at for fear of repercussions. What happens after you make your choice will be up to you.
Östland’s script, as well as the performances he gets out of his cast, means that even the most minor of characters doesn’t feel wasted. Whether that be the mother hens clucking at their husbands to take their friend to the hospital, or the recently divorced coach driver who just wants to know who broke the coach toilet. The main characters themselves are lovely little enigmas that test your loyalty of them. Which of the two girls the leader and the other the follower? Are some of the lads on holiday victims of the jovial Leffe (Leif Edlund Johansson) or is it the other way round? You may not end up with the same answers as us, or even the same questions, but you will come out of the film wanting to discuss, which is more than you can say of a lot of films that have come out this year.