On this week's edition of gaslighting geologists to avoid panic, Ghouls are talking about the Norwegian tsunami disaster film, The Wave. Kat explains how the Earth intends to murder us and why that's okay.
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The Wave (2015) Director: Roar Uthaug
Summary by IMDB: Although anticipated, no one is really ready when the mountain pass above the scenic, narrow Norwegian fjord Geiranger collapses and creates an 85-meter high violent tsunami. A geologist is one of those caught in the middle of it.
The Wave: Gaslighting Geologists & the Spectacle of Natural Disaster
RED: Quotes, someone else's words.
The Wave is a slow burn. What we see is the classic “geologist tries to convince higher-ups of impending natural disaster only to be dismissed.” Father, Kristian is about to sell-out and work for big oil so he’s making the move from the quaint and picturesque Geiranger. The bulk of this film is Kristian feeling uneasy about the impending disaster but not being confident in himself enough to really do anything about it. We open with footage and information about a tsunami in the past. What I learned in that Geollywood class that stuck with me was that the farther away in time you are from one natural disaster, like a volcanic eruption, then the closer you are to it happening again. Which you know, has me pondering the same question Kat did in our last episode, “Why would anyone live in a place with danger looming?”
But to be honest, there’s risk of danger everywhere, right? And Geiranger is REALLY pretty and quaint. I get the appeal. Director Roar Uthaug works really hard to show us how beautiful this town is. The blues are vibrant and the reds muted to ensure the blues really pop. There’s a bit of science happening but it felt rushed or minimized to make way for more pondering shots. We have an absurd scene where Kristian is supposed to be leaving with his family to their new house and he turns around to go talk to his colleagues, leaving the kids in the car. Which is fine except he then goes on a spelunking excursion! Traveling there by helicopter and finding severed cords which seem like a big deal! Only, it’s brushed away rather lacklusterly and Kristian is just like, “Yeah, I guess you’re right. Despite all this evidence and the fact that we should err on the side of caution. I’ll just keep my family in this ticking time bomb of a location while I wallow in how sad I am that I know there is impending danger and no one will listen to me.”
Eventually, the tsunami does occur. It’s short but intense. Beautiful imagery that is savage and brutal. It happens so fast. This isn’t a classic disaster film that exploits the damage done by a natural disaster. In fact, when we do experience the wave it is suffocating and constrained. Kristian experiences the wave while in a car and we are knocked around in this tight space while the destruction occurs outside.
One thing I was expecting in this film that wasn’t there, was when the water on the shores is sucked back before a tsunami because it’s sucking up all the water. I find that to be truly horrifying. To turn and look at an empty beach and know that you have...maybe scant minutes or even seconds to get to high ground.
The rest of the film is a search and rescue. Lots of miscommunication, characters doing things other than what they told others they would and other a MURDER happens.
Does it accurately represent the horrors of a natural disaster?
In this helpful article on The Washington Post, A tsunami destroys a Norwegian town in ‘The Wave’ by Stephanie Merry we get a rather direct answer, “Fact: An eroding mountain in the Norwegian town of Geiranger may one day collapse into the fjord below, prompting a tsunami that could wipe out the village.”
Given that we experience the wave inside a car, I can’t speak to the accuracy of the event but the lead up to it, including the evidence Kristian collects while trying to convince the higher-ups of the impending disaster seem to check out. Kat found an article on Variety that honestly feels like we wrote it. Titled 'The Wave' Review: A Norwegian Disaster Movie on Par With Hollywood, writer Peter Debruge explains, “Roar Uthaug has made an equally impressive tsunami-peril thriller — a thunderous rumble-rumble-hustle-hustle-glub-glub nerve-racker that hits all the same beats as its Hollywood equivalents, right down to the implausible group hug at the end.”
Which I found entertaining but they also go on to say, “Whereas most nature’s-angry movies exploit relatively far-fetched fears (“Sharknado,” anyone?), “The Wave” anticipates a dauntingly plausible disaster scenario. According to Uthaug, with 300 unstable mountainsides in Norway, sooner or later, his countrymen will have to contend with the sort of massive landslide and subsequent 250-foot tidal wave he so enthusiastically imagines crashing down into the fjord, sending a wall of water toward the sleepy tourist hamlet of Geiranger.”
What is this film trying to teach us about humanity?
Most Disaster movies focus on the destruction. Painting the natural disaster as the ultimate villain, tearing through our human made structures and dismantling our carefully crafted society like it’s nothing. The disasters serve to reduce society to rubble, to force us to confront our base human reactions. Do we help our fellow humans? Do we run and save ourselves? I had intended to cover Force Majeure for our avalanche episode because I feel it's a film that spends more time on the effects of the disaster on the people affected, having to look at themselves for who they really are - are you the type of person to abandon your family to save yourself? The Wave is similar to this. The destruction is quick as I mentioned and most of the film is spent in the before. We get some savage and desperate scenarios in the end. Again, the MURDER. We see people lose those they love, people think they lost the ones they love and people killing other people to save the ones they love. But this happens quite late and despite the real threats outside, I can’t say I was terribly invested in their survival.
When I first pitched this series, I had originally planned to cover The Impossible. A film about a vacationing family that experiences a tsunami. I mostly wanted to cover it because the imagery was so striking and truly terrifying. But we quickly decided against it when we saw it features, at its focal point, a white family in Thailand that struggles to survive the aftermath. It is based on a true story and there have been many articles and discussions defending this casting and POV choice. But it didn’t sit right with me. An article on Screenrant explains the controversy around The Impossible, The Impossible True Story: How Accurate The Tsunami Movie Is
A January 2013 article in The Guardian states that The Impossible "concentrates not on the plight of the indigenous victims but on the less harrowing experiences of privileged white visitors." One month prior, two Slate journalists debated whether or not The Impossible is "reprehensible." And before The Impossible even released, Film School Rejects commented on the "white wealth" of the trailer. The whitewashing accusations are certainly valid, but the cast itself isn't exclusively white but rather comprised of various Thai individuals. In December 2012, McGregor addressed the whitewashing controversy [via The Guardian] and summed up the spirit of the film: "Naomi's character is saved by a Thai man, and taken to safety in a Thai village where the Thai women dress her … In the hospital they're all Thai nurses and Thai doctors – you see nothing but Thai people saving lives and helping."
The Impossible has been publicly praised by several survivors; a testament to María's guidance and attention to detail during production. In 2013, Simon Jenkins stated [via The Guardian] that he was "frustrated" by accusation of whitewashing, most notably the suggestion that the film was centered on "privileged white visitors." According to Jenkins, The Impossible mirrors his own experiences in Thailand: "Both for my (then) 16-year-old self and the Belón family, it was the Thai people who waded through the settled water after the first wave had struck to help individuals and families... The Thai people had just lost everything – homes, businesses, families – yet their instinct was to help the tourists."
But to me it feels as if the film studio thought people wouldn’t be interested in this story unless it was told from an outsider’s perspective. Why do we need to see the humanity in people by showing how they treat outsiders instead of showing their own? As if the Thai people don't also have this struggle. Just because they live there doesn't make it any less traumatic.
I don't think the original family's trauma is any less important than the Thai natives. I just dislike the decision to focus on outsiders. Like, there is depth added to showing it from the POV of a native like we get in Japan Sinks. We see people not just struggling to survive and love each other. But also people having to cope with the loss of everyone and everything around them. How can a tourist have the same experience? Their bags are lost from their luxurious hotel room? I'm sorry but that really pales in comparison to the people who lost entire families or their property. If tourist family lives, they get to go home and be normal and write books about how nice Thai people were to them. Meanwhile the Thai people have nowhere to go.
Tsunamis: The Earth is Trying to Murder Us
RED: Quotes, someone else's words.
What is a Tsunami?
The ocean is a terrifying water void that wants to murder us. Like the depths of space it’s filled with awful things we’ve never seen before or can’t understand.
Tsunamis are giant waves caused by earthquakes or volcanic eruptions under the sea. Out in the depths of the ocean, tsunami waves do not dramatically increase in height. But as the waves travel inland, they build up to higher and higher heights as the depth of the ocean decreases. The speed of tsunami waves depends on ocean depth rather than the distance from the source of the wave. Tsunami waves may travel as fast as jet planes over deep waters, only slowing down when reaching shallow waters. While tsunamis are often referred to as tidal waves, this name is discouraged by oceanographers because tides have little to do with these giant waves.
What to do in a Tsunami?
Follow instructions and evacuate when told to do so, in case of a long/strong earthquake:
Move to higher ground.
Stay away from coast, tidal estuaries, rivers and streams; if at sea, stay there until “all clear” is issued.
Be aware of secondary hazards such as landslides, flooding and mudflows.
Find out if your home, school, workplace or other frequently visited locations are in tsunami hazard areas. For high risk areas, know the earthquake and tsunami plans for each location.
Contact your municipality to know the risks, evacuation and alerting system in your community. Know the sound of the alert and make sure all in your family are familiar with it and what to do. Sign up for local alerts.
For up-to-date information from coast to coast to coast, the Government of Canada and the Canadian National Seismograph Network monitor significant earthquake reports in Canada.
Know the difference between a tsunami warning and a tsunami watch:
A tsunami warning means a tsunami may have been generated and could be close to your area. A full evacuation is suggested.
A tsunami watch means a tsunami has not yet been verified but could exist and may be as little as an hour away. Stay alert for more information.
Review evacuation plans with household members. Be prepared ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice.
Plan evacuation routes to areas 30 metres above sea level or 3 kilometres inland. If you can’t, go as high and as far away as you can. You should be able to reach your safe location on foot within 15 minutes.
If you feel an earthquake, drop, cover and hold:
Drop: drop under heavy furniture such as a table, desk, bed or any solid furniture.
Cover: cover your head and torso to prevent being hit by falling objects.
Hold: hold onto the object you are under so that you remain covered.
Be aware of the signs of a tsunami:
A strong earthquake lasting 20 seconds or more near the coast.
A noticeable rapid rise or fall of coastal waters.
Coastal water making unusual noise. The noise may sounds like an approaching train, plane, or whistling.
Following an earthquake, move quickly to higher ground away from the coast. In case of a tsunami warning, be prepared ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice.
Follow posted evacuation routes, where present. Take your animals with you but do not delay your evacuation to collect them.
A tsunami is a series of waves that can continue for hours and the next waves may be larger than earlier ones. Do not assume that after one wave, the danger is over. If you cannot evacuate to higher ground, evacuate vertically to a higher floor, onto a roof, up a tree, or grab a floating object.
If you are at sea, stay there. Boats are generally safer in water deeper than 20 metres. Ships are safest on high seas in water deeper than 100 metres.
Watching a tsunami could put you in grave danger. If you can see the wave, you are too close to escape it.
Monitor the tsunami’s progress and listen for warnings or instructions from local officials. If you are safe when the first tsunami hits, stay put until authorities declare all is safe as more waves may follow.
Continue to take precautions and listen to and follow directions from local authorities.
Be prepared for aftershocks, which could generate another tsunami.
Return home only after local officials tell you it is safe. A tsunami is a series of waves that may continue for hours. Do not assume that after one wave the danger is over. The next wave may be larger than the first one.
Be aware of secondary effects. These include landslides, contaminated water, mudflows, damaged bridges, buildings and roads, and other hazards.
Only make calls if you require emergency services.
Stay out of any building that has water around it. Tsunami force can cause floors to crack or walls to collapse.
If you suspect your home is unsafe, do not enter. Rely on the professionals to clear your home for re-entry, if you are unsure.
Do not light matches or turn on lights or appliances until you are sure there are no gas leaks or flammable liquids spilled. Avoid use of contaminated water.
Place a HELP sign in your window if you need assistance.
Tsunami’s are terrifying why? How likely will they happen?
Terrifying website that warns and keeps track of Tsunamis https://www.tsunami.gov
A piece of what makes Tsunamis so terrifying is the fact that the act of one taking place is sort of like kicking someone while they’re down. Tsunamis follow earthquakes, an already devastating natural disaster, and make impact soon after that devastation. They can also be triggered by smaller earthquakes, and they happen rather quickly so reaction speed is a part of the survival process. There’s also an added fear when distrust of the government or other organizations that report out these kinds of disasters exists, as a delay in notice of the incoming disaster will result in major losses of life. The fear factor is also dependent upon where you are during the threat of an incoming Tsunami. Are you at the beach chilling with your friends/family? Does that wave look like it’s getting bigger and bigger in the distance? Or, are you bringing your groceries to your car and as you open the door you notice a giant wall of water where water should not be? The time is a major factor at least for me, the suddenness, the dependency on time to get to higher ground. The chaos of the ocean suddenly throwing consent to the wind and invading the land where it does not exist regularly.
Once the Tsunami has hit, and water is now in places water should not be, and with that water creatures are swimming around like “this isn’t my house and I’m mad about it”. That last part was mostly a joke, but Tsunamis also significantly impact marine wildlife. They can also be indicators of changes in underwater climate, that could hint to whether or not an earthquake or tsunami is incoming. In an article from 2019 titled Japan tsunami fears grow after sightings of rare deep-sea-dwelling oarfish written by Harry Cockburn, goes through the migration of Oarfish, that traditionally are only found deeper in the ocean. Oarfish are a relatively rare by catch, as they live between 200m and 1,000m (650ft to 3,200ft) below the surface. While there is no direct correlation between the spotting of Oarfish and Tsunami, this theory became popular following the 2011 earthquake in Japan as Oarfish were being caught then as well. Satoshi Kusama of Uozo Aquarium said: “[Finding several in a row] is said to be the forerunner of an earthquake or to be influenced by ocean temperatures, but research is scarce and we don’t know the cause.” It could be seen as similar to how animals on land react when disasters are incoming, i.e when birds are seen flocking away from an area.
In addition to being indicators of underwater change, the organisms that are swept away in a Tsunami can impact the ecosystems that exist underwater. It can move an invasive species into an area that it hadn’t been previously. It can destroy sea grass and other home structures for fish and other wildlife that impact the local ecosystems negatively. Coral reefs are considered natural breakwaters for Tsunamis, which is another reason aside from the fact that they are home to many species of fish and other marine animals, that the death of the reef is a big deal for the potential impact of future Tsunamis. With this, Tsunamis can also hurt the reefs.