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Demolition is the third American drama film from director Jean-Marc Vallée and the next in a string of consistent brilliantly performances from Jake Gyllenhaal. After Dallas Buyers Club and Wild, Vallée continues his theme of directing films about powerful individuals who find their way back to normalcy after being struck by intense tragedy. Although it is led by a stellar performance from Jake Gyllenhaal, the journey taken by his character to find some meaning in life after experiencing disaster seems disingenuous.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Davis Mitchell. Davis has a great career in finance, is married to the lovely Julia, the boss’s daughter, and they live together in a beautifully constructed home. While riding together to work one morning, Davis and Julia are hit by an oncoming car and while Davis escapes without a scratch, Julia is killed instantly.
Saying that what happens next is Davis embarking on a journey to make sense life with no Julia, is a bit of understatement. Davis basically cannot figure out how to feel about her death, or how to feel about his life after her death. He admits to himself that he’s basically been going through the motions of life for so long, that when something happens to him that he actually has to cope with, it makes him view the world with unselfish eyes for the first time in his life. The “demolition” part of the film is the act of Davis making a habit of completely destroying objects as an outlet of his frustration. Another product of his new unabashed honesty is meeting customer service worker Karen (Naomi Watts), who calls Davis to tell him she is touched by is story, and he immediately embarks on a quest to befriend her and her teenage son, Chris (Judah Lewis).
Vallée’s film is an one hour and forty minute metaphor. In fact, one of Davis’s lines is “Suddenly, everything is a metaphor. A fallen tree, that’s my life. Bad weather, I am the cold front coming in.” All of Davis’s behavior is supposed to be a metaphor for how he’s feeling inside. The film never directly points out exactly what his feelings are, but whatever action he takes is more than likely a symbol of something deeper. His behavior can be interpreted several different ways. I interpret Davis’s actions as pretentious. I personally do not believe anyone who has done so well in life has done so on auto-pilot. His life was created on deliberate choices, so his property destruction and strange human interactions seem more like a child acting out instead of an adult going through intense pain.
The best aspect of his film was the central relationship and it was not a romantic one between Davis and Karen, it was between Davis and her son Chris. Precocious fifteen-year-old Chris is going through a bit of an identity crisis himself and feel comfort in being around Davis. Chris’s problems seem pretty minor in comparison, and Davis finds solace in another person who is having trouble being their true selves.
One could watch Gyllenhaal read the phone book at this point. He is that charismatic and this movie would have not worked at all without him. Naomi Watts’s character is completely underused and underdeveloped. She is not in the film all that much, and she is not missed when she is gone. Newcomer Judah Lewis also gives a great performance. He and Gyllenhaal’s scenes together saved this film.
The movie itself was all over the place. The script was trying to convey what one would go through of they are forced to confront themselves after going through hell, but I could not sympathize with Gyllenhaal’s character. He just seems like he was going through a hissy fit the whole movie. Although he says he never really felt any emotions before his wife’s death, he does not seem to feel any after it either. He’s just louder.