Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper
After the tragic death of his wife in a car crash, investment banker Davis (Gyllenhaal) returns to work, with his boss and late wife’s father (Cooper) struggling to comprehend Davis’ initial methods of coping with the tragedy. After writing an initial complaint letter to a vending machine company which becomes a series of confessional letters to the company’s customer service rep (Watts), the two form a close bond as Davis begins to gradually, completely and quite literally take apart and re-analyse his life.
Though we all cringed at his performance in Prince of Persia, Donnie Darko has since then genuinely impressed with some exceptional performances and admittedly some very good choice of scripts; with Nightcrawler, Prisoners and Enemy the particular recent standouts.
Well Director Jean-Marc Vallée’s Oscar winning Dallas Buyers Club was a generic narrative brought to life by two exceptional performances, and so seemingly in the same vein of filmmaking, his latest is a seemingly random character driven narrative that undoubtedly requires (and heavily relies) on an exceptional leading performance to keep it all together, and Jake Gyllenhaal impressively steps up to the plate to do just that.
As Davis Gyllenhaal commands the screen from start to finish, and he does make what could have easily been a laughably farcical character driven narrative (i.e.; there really is no structure to it) genuinely engaging and thought provoking.
Of course far more of us have never experienced the deep personal tragedy that Davis experiences than have, but we all know that deep personal tragedy and loss effects people in different ways. How Davis deals with the grief within the narrative of Demolition is certainly unique, but that certainly does not in any way make it a wrong or inaccurate depiction of grief, as it is unique to the individual that has had the deep misfortune of experiencing it.
It is this deeply personal and potentially life-changing experience that drives the narrative, and thanks to Gyllenhaal’s superb performance Demolition is a deeply engaging and emotive examination of grief and the profoundly unique effects it can have on an individual.
The narrative itself certainly contains its fair share of contrivances, and most of the plot that involves Naomi Watt’s character or her cross-dressing teenage son do feel particularly contrived in what is a narrative that does at times feels like they really did make it up as they go along. Many scenes do admittedly feel pointless and basically like they are complete filler.
However, and most importantly, Demolition is a film that asks some deeply personal and profound questions of the viewer. Many of course will not like this, but those who want films to just go that little bit deeper in their examination of the human condition and ask us questions of our own lives and what we think happiness is (particularly in the context of relationships) will find Demolition an emotionally rewarding film.
It is on the whole, completely slapdash and disjointed as a piece of narrative of cinema, but as Davis examines his relationship with his late wife and the life he lead while married, it asks some unconformable, but profound questions of him and indeed the viewer. I think it is important to state that what the viewer gets out of Demolition is very much dependant of what they are willing to put in, but the questions the narrative asks Davis to analyse can most certainly apply to all viewers, and not just those that have experienced tragedy and loss. If the viewer can engage with the protagonist and how he re-evaluated the life he led, then these questions can also apply to the viewer’s own unique life, and in particular the importance of relationships and what the happiness and deep unhappiness they can equally bring.
One of the key themes of the narrative of Demolition is brutal honesty, and I think that those willing to be brutally honest with themselves while watching this film will find it the most rewarding; it asks many profound questions, but certainly does not provide clear answers. however this is consistent with the themes at the heart if its narrative as there ultimately are no general answers to what are deeply personal questions.
Of course Davis’ slightly unconventional demonstration of grief is contradicted by that of his late wives’ father, and Davis’ boss, Phil. Chris Cooper delivers an exceptional performance as Phil, evoking a raw sympathy and also providing another emotional narrative layer of the film’s analysis of grief. His lines “there is no word to describe a parent a losing a child, and there shouldn’t be” is one of the many profound and deeply observed lines in the script.
Though as the narrative develops there are of course many questions asked that the audience is left to answer of themselves, which is only a good thing, but what does on the whole feel like a slapdash narrative is actually finalised with deeply effective emotional resonance. How Davis finally comes to terms with events is certainly more than a little contrived, but the narrative’s ending is surprisingly emotionally satisfying. Demolition may be nonconventional in many ways, but those willing to invest in it and ask questions of themselves, as well as forgive its flaws, will be rewarded by its deeply emotional evaluations of relatable themes, and also some great comic lines.
Jake Gyllenhaal once again impresses with yet another suitably intense but emotionally engaging leading performance; Demolition certainly has its fair share of narrative flaws, but for the viewer that is willing to emotionally invest, it is an involving and personal narrative experience that asks some deeply profound questions of the viewer. Generic narrative cinema this is not!