I’ll get the fact that I highly recommend this film out of the way. It is definitely worth seeing and I’ll probably add it to my DVD/Blu-ray collection when it comes out in that format in a few months. It’s April, and the weather in the Greater Dayton area has been pretty crappy over the last week. Choices are limited as the mainstream studios are saving their best for May, June, and July. “Batman v Superman’ wasn’t terrific and ‘Zootopia’ is certainly still an option. This week, though, I recommend ‘Demolition.’ I loved some of the dark humor and the notion of becoming obsessed with distractions when dealing with grief or just something really difficult. The paragraph’s below will contain major spoilers, so read them if you’ve already seen it or read them if you haven’t seen it and don’t care to see it, but are still curious.
‘Demolition’ is one of those films that I wasn’t completely excited to see based on the trailer, but ended up really enjoying. It really does a great job showing how something like grief becomes much more complex when there are unresolved issues at the time of a sudden loss. It also looks at the notion of honesty. People often see bluntness and negativity as honesty, but ‘Demolition’ shows that that is not necessarily the case. Sometimes, the constant expression of an honest opinion about small things is a cover for much larger issues. In the opening scene Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllehaal) is involved in a car crash that kills his wife Julia (Heather Lind). He reacts to the news that his wife didn’t make it with quiet shock. He examines the operating room and the blood left behind. He then goes to buy M&Ms from a vending machine, and his purchase gets stuck. He remains quiet, not really talking to his parents or in-laws about his grief. After the funeral, he goes into a quiet room and begins to cry. He then decides to write a very detailed letter to the vending company. It becomes his distraction and lightening rod. He writes a few more letters before the customer service rep at the company Karen (Naomi Watts) decides to call him at 2am (she is dealing with issues of her own).
One thing that happened prior to Julia’s sudden death was that she asks Davis to fix the refrigerator, and there is an implication that she knows that he doesn’t always pay attention to her. This sets up Davis obsessively taking things apart throughout the film, and the realization that he didn’t really nurture his marriage as he should have. He frequently makes blunt comments and talks to Karen in detail about certain things. Karen mistakes this for being honest (he can certainly be given credit for admitting that he just takes the credit for people who work under him at his job), but in truth it is a distraction. In the last act, he learns that Julia was pregnant, but later finds out that the baby wasn’t his. That is the moment when he stops focusing on his distractions and finally allows himself to feel his grief. There is something very relevant about finding obsessive distractions. He does indeed speak a lot of truth in his moments of bluntness. He tells Karen’s son, Chris (Judah Lewis) how stupid he sounds for the excessive use of the big F word. Chris eventually replies “F***, you!” to Davis and Davis replies “See, you sound like an idiot and I feel nothing.” He had a point about the word losing its effect after so much saturation, I had to chuckle. Chris is a teenager with a lot of issues himself. It turns out that he is gay and naturally feels isolated from his peers because of it (bullying is still a serious problem). Karen is in a relationship with a decent man who wants to take things to the next level, when she does not. She doesn’t know how to end it. I like the fact that the relationship between Karen and Davis never actually becomes romantic. The filmmakers also do not try too hard to avoid romance to the point where keeping the relationship platonic becomes contrived. That is a difficult balance, but they achieve it. In the end, they are drawn to each other because they are both avoiding difficult truths in their own lives and both need someone to interact with who is completely disconnected from those uncomfortable truths.
Davis is finally able to face and heal from his grief when he realizes that he didn’t work on his marriage as much as he should have. There are a number of flashback scenes where his wife is trying to connect to him while he remains distant. His father-in-law Chris Cooper, who has been making an effort to connect to him throughout the film, finally yells “It should have been you!” (killed in the accident) and it is the first moment of real honesty between the two men. Phil had been trying to get Davis to sign the insurance money over to a scholarship foundation in Julia’s memory throughout the film. While Davis eventually does sign the papers, he ultimately decides that he wants to do something more personal for Julia (building a Carousel near a pier) because he really did love her. It works organically on an emotional level..