THE WAVE (Uthaug, 2015): Modern Classicism in Norway

The Wave is a very well crafted, captivating piece of filmmaking. It gives the disaster genre a new lease on life and shows yet again that some of the best one-off blockbusters are coming from outside Hollywood–in this case, Norway–as franchises crowd out the well-made single installment film in the American film industry.

The Wave is what might be called transnational filmmaking “lite.” Local ways of living, anxieties, histories, and spaces are made palatable and blended in fine fashion with international storytelling forms.

In fact, The Wave reveals the continued viability and portability of the classical narrative paradigm, an approach to cinematic storytelling innovated in Hollywood during the 1910s and which spread across the globe in the 1920s and beyond. With the narrative pyrotechnics–flashbacks, flashforwards, cheeky direct addresses, and abrupt tonal shifts–of “baroque” blockbusters like Deadpool (2016) kept to a minimum, we are allowed to be taken in by simple, goal-oriented characterization and by tried-and-true button-pushing scenarios, like obstacles, deadlines, character separations and reunions, and implausible, but thrilling, split-second rescues.

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All of these classical plot devices are given further classical shape through the use of a splendidly taut and logical four-act structure. Turning points arrive just on cue–every 30 minutes or so–and unlike those of maximalist tentpoles like Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014), where each new act brings a radically different set of dilemmas, the narrative hinge-points of The Wave are consistently tied to a single problem: the disaster. The first turning comes at the 30-minute mark as the protagonist tries and fails to convince his colleagues that a tsunami-causing landslide is imminent. The second turning point occurs one hour into the film–the tsunami itself–which sets the new goal of having to survive it and its aftermath. And the third turning point appears at 1 hour, 30 minutes, when, post-tsunami, the protagonist finds his daughter and sets out in search for the rest of his family.

Whether or not we agree with some scholars that Hollywood has shifted to a post-classical era, it seems clear that classicism is thriving in the blockbusters produced by other national cinemas.

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