Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts and Chris Cooper
Directed By: Jean-Marc Vallee
Running Time: 100 mins
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars
Falling in love with a Jake Gyllenhaal character is proving to be deadly. Last year his wife in Southpaw died, then there’s the ill-fated passenger aboard a train in Source Code and now we have Demolition. Gyllenhaal plays Davis,
whose main squeeze, Julia (Heather Lind), dies right off the bat in Demolition. A fatal car crash takes her young life, sparing Davis. The incident is a blur, which is a testament to how Davis has lived his life up until this point.
There’s a very telling scene at the hospital immediately after the accident, as Davis is awoken from a nap by Julia’s father, Phil (Cooper). Phil’s eyes are bloodshot from crying while Davis’ eyes simply have the remnants of sleep in them. If anything, Phil is more distraught over losing out on a pocket change from the hospital vending machine. But oddly enough he finds comfort when he begins to pen handwritten letters to the vending machine company that cheated him out of some much needed candy.
His letters detail his adult life descent into apathy towards everything and everyone around him. He casually details his decomposition of his most simplistic of human emotions. Meanwhile, in robotic fashion, Davis watches and skirts around other people mourning the death of Julia. Verbally, he says the right things, but physically, his reactions are lethargic to the whole grieving process. The numbness he feels is the lack of love he had for his wife. He can’t even remember why he even married her in the first place.
Demolition casually, and sometimes very abruptly, takes some very surreal turns to show Davis’ unraveling. The death of his wife turns out to be a rebirth of sorts. Davis reflects on everything he’s done and soon his natural curiosity for life takes over. He socializes with people he would have normally disregarded and dismantles things around him, wondering how they work or simply, what’s on the inside of them.
At times Demolition plays like a fever dream, matching its heavy material with a heavy rock drumming on the soundtrack. The overpowering and sorrowful guitar soundtrack and music video-like sequences are cliché at times. Much like taking replacing a lightbulb with a sledgehammer, Demolition can be a little bit too blunt with its overall meaning about deconstructing life and rebuilding it. But it never takes away from its tragic message about how sometimes our lives are stuck on auto-pilot.
Every performance is spot on, especially Gyllenhaal who is still in a never ending quest for an Oscar, or at the very least, another nomination. Naomi Watts in turn provides a subtle innocence to an emotionally battled mom, Karen, struggling with her feelings over Davis. It’s odd that their sweet, yet non-physical, relationship stems from exchanging messages over a broken hospital vending machine, but their acting and their on-screen magic makes it believable. Judah Lewis plays Karen’s adolescent son, who ends up propelling Gyllenhaal’s character forward while providing his own character study on Chris, a boy struggling to come to terms with who he is.
Demolition is poignant, yet emotionally rejuvenating. It’s a visually entertaining story, with an at-times confusing narrative. It may take a couple of viewings to fully comprehend it’s multi-level message about society, the people in it, and the tendencies that those people have to become emotionally distant from everything. Nearly everyone in Demolition go through some complex changes, especially Davis, and it’s interesting to watch that growth, whether the changes be big or small.