In ‘The Quake,’ director explores what it means to survive disaster repeatedly


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Grade: 3.5 /5.0

“The big one is next” is the oft-used phrase in earthquake-prone areas. This is also the basic premise of Norwegian disaster movie “The Quake (Skjelvet), directed by John Andreas Andersen. In the film, which is set in Oslo, Norway, a major quake is overdue, as the city’s last one struck in 1904. As the credits proclaim, “Norway has the highest earthquake activity north of the Alps.” “The Quake” is a sequel to another of Andersen’s big disaster movies, “The Wave.”

In a movie titled “The Quake,” one would expect to see footage of a big quake early on. The actual big quake, however, takes more than an hour to make its appearance — most of the movie is the build-up to the actual quake.

The pace of the movie at times feels slow. But, this could be a kind of lost-in-translation phenomenon due to the reliance on English subtitles for viewers who cannot understand the Norwegian dialogue.

The strength of the movie is its focus on the very human trauma that results from surviving a natural disaster not just once, but over and over again. In “The Quake,” geologist Kristian Eikjord (Kristoffer Joner) is still reeling from the psychological effects of the tsunami in his hometown of Geiranger three years earlier as depicted in “The Wave.” Though he is nationally recognized as having rescued many affected by that disaster, he is emotionally haunted by those he has not been able to save. The film shows how this torment drives Eikjord’s family away as he continues to ruminate over the individuals lost. He is not even able to connect with his young daughter Julia (Edith Haagenrud-Sande) when she comes to visit and sends her back to her mother in Oslo almost immediately.

Eikjord’s past trauma, as shown in “The Wave,” has left him with an almost subconscious anticipation of the next big disaster. All he needs to propel him into action is a package from a fellow geologist with some intriguing seismic data. A lone man’s journey then begins, as Eikjord tries to investigate the mystery behind his colleague’s death and convince the disbelieving Norwegian Seismic Array officials that a big quake is imminent.

He does so even as he attempts to reconnect with his skeptical wife Idun (Ane Dahl Torp) and kids in Oslo. Eikjord’s personal dilemma between saving the world and reforging a connection with his family is evident as his exasperated wife asks why he cannot be a caring father when he fails to turn up for Julia’s ballet performance. Eikjord tries to explain the death of his geologist colleague to his late friend’s daughter, Marit (Kathrine Thorborg Johansen), by telling her, “Some things are more important than a daughter or son or family.”

As in the case with many big disaster genre movies, the rescue of the immediate family is the focus in the aftermath of a disaster, which makes for a more predictable storyline. Yet, such a storyline makes sense in this case as Eikjord’s path toward redemption and reconnection with his family lies in his acts of overcoming obstacles to get to them when push comes to shove.

Viewed from the 34th floor of a skyscraper, the quake rolls across the picturesque Oslo landscape and leaves crumbling buildings in its wake. Language ceases to be a barrier during the last half-hour of the movie, which is action-packed with great CGI graphics — especially the image of half the skyscraper almost imploding. Some of the scenes bring out the real fear many of us have of being stuck in an elevator or sliding off a tipping building during an earthquake.

Given Eikjord’s history of mental health issues, the question remains after the closing scene of “The Quake” — how does such a person cope with the traumatic loss caused by this disaster and that of inevitable future quakes in an earthquake-prone area?

Contact Hari Srinivasan at [email protected].