Demolition has the hint of a good idea in it, it’s just a shame that it surrounds itself in pretence and bullshit so that the original good idea is lost.
The movie stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Davis, a successful investment banker who struggles with the loss of his wife in a car crash. As Davis struggles to deal with his grief and the expectations of his father-in-law Phil (Chris Cooper), his life begins to fall apart.
That is, until he makes an odd connection with a vending machine customer service rep, Karen (Naomi Watts), who helps him to begin to rebuild his life with the help of her son Chris (Judah Lewis).
I wish I could say that I loved Demolition, but I didn’t. The best way I can describe it is as a poor quality photograph of something beautiful. You can appreciate that there’s something good in there, it’s just that the presentation is off.
So what did I like about the film? What do I find beautiful in this metaphorical crappy photo?
Well, without going into depressing detail, I can relate to having lost someone, as I’m sure many can, and I thought Demolition was a pretty accurate depiction of grief.
Okay, so allow me to overindulge the film.
You see, in my experience, there are two types of grief. The first is the socially acceptable, and no less valid, open mourning – crying, wailing, disbelief, confusion.
Basically, it’s the homogenised version of dealing with death that Hollywood has taught us is the norm.
Other people like this type of mourning, it’s open and helps them to understand what you’re going through, so much so that it’s become expected these days.
Those who don’t wail in a graveyard are seen as callous and uncaring, despite the loss they feel inside.
What some people don’t understand is that not crying doesn’t mean that you don’t care. In fact, you care just as much, it’s just that you’ve internalised that grief.
It’s like a horrible numb cancer at the very centre of your being. Many people don’t like this style of mourning because they can’t understand it. It’s not the way mourning is ‘supposed to look’.
Demolition, for its many faults, perfectly depicted how that feels and, more importantly, how uncomfortable it makes other people feel, which leads me to the film’s central message.
Life is for the living not for the dead, and as easy as it would be, you can’t let that sadness swallow you whole.
You have to live your life for you, or you risk ending up as dead as those you lost. And the first step of dealing with that is being honest both with yourself and others, and I think Jake Gyllenhaal portrays this wonderfully.
All that said, let’s get the knives out…
Unfortunately for Demolition, this message can’t obscure what is ultimately a very average film made up of the usual plot beats and set pieces that you’d expect in an uplifting film about grief.
We’ve got a numb main character struggling with the death of a loved one who has one small connection, which changes from a trickle of connection to a raging torrent of emotion and feelings by the film’s climax.
Worse than that, the movie tries so hard to be profound that it took me out of the moment and made it very clear that I was watching a film.
Picture Mr Creosote from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life – this film basically did the same as the overeager diner, showing up at the ‘uplifting clichés buffet’ with an extra large plate and helping itself to every overwrought and saccharine sweet item on the menu until it bursts under its own weight.
This overindulgence leads to the film rambling along with seemingly no idea of where it’s heading, which is especially disappointing as moments of real pathos are interrupted by seemingly random plot beats that have no impact on Davis’ character arc.
Honestly, this film is at best a middling picture which spreads itself too thin, which makes its few good points ultimately less powerful than they should be.