(M) Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper
Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal) is losing his way in life. He seems to have everything — an enviable home with a Porsche in the garage, a successful career in finance and a seemingly perfect and beautiful wife, Julia (Heather Lind). Then an accident happens. In an instant, Julia is killed by a reckless driver and Davis’ life is turned upside-down. Throughout the initial grieving process, the young investment banker realises he never truly loved his wife and that he had become numb to life. In trying to find his way, Davis takes the advice of his father-in-law, Phil (Chris Cooper), to take things apart that do not work. Also, he begins to find a therapeutic benefit to writing letters to a customer service representative, Karen (Naomi Watts), who attempts to help him in his bereavement. This unexpected relationship begins the deconstruction of Davis’ life and the eventual rebuilding of his soul.
Following up from the success of Dallas Buyers Club andWild, director Jean-Marc Vallée attempts to strike cinematic gold with digging deep into the human psyche. He continues to show he can draw great performances from his lead actors and that he prefers to set his stories against a backdrop of the bizarre found among the ordinary things of life.
The grief of a widower and parents provides a multi-layered emotional minefield that Vallée utilises to keep the story off balance enough to pull the audience along to the next scene. Gyllenhaal continues to show he is a thespian force that deserves more credit for his on-screen abilities. The support of Watts, Cooper and Judah Lewis delivers a colourful cast of side characters, expanding the palette that accomplished Vallée can use to paint a unique view on life.
Unusually, the strength of Demolition can potentially be its weakness: Vallée’s artistic outlook on life is what may cause audiences to either love or hate this film. People have been known to work through the grieving process in exceptionally different ways and Davis Mitchell goes to extremes that may cause discomfort for many. Also, the inclusion of a young man’s journey into sexual awareness may be timely on the world stage, but does seem to be an unnecessary addition to this story of grief.
In an attempt to present many sides of grief and to stay culturally relevant, Vallee has actually made a muddle of what could have been a profound statement on a topic that effects all of humanity. Demolition has all of the components for a brilliant look into the life of the grieving public, but loses its way on the path to self-discovery.
What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film?
Demolition brings grief to the forefront of people’s lives. Regret, tears, anger, confusion are some of the emotions that come along during this time in the lives of those who lose a loved one. One thing that can be considered is the Bible’s message that God is not only there for those who grieve, but that He can empathise with them too. His Son died a horrific death and, among other things, this allows us to know we can come to a God who knows how we feel during grief.
- Does the Bible have anything to say about death? (Ecclesiastes 12:7, John 14:1-3)
- What can we learn from grief? (Psalm 34:18, 2 Corinthians 1: 3-4)
- Is God a mystery? (Colossians 2:2-3, Ephesians 3:5)
Russell Matthews works for City Bible Forum Sydney and is a film blogger
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