There are endless canards about how grief dissolves all human rationality, and no small number of real-life examples of apparently inexplicable behavior to back it up. (Here’s a random news story to this effect which came up after a Google News search for “grieving man.”) For all that movie-watchers may grumble about logic in ill-defined scripts, the “truth is stranger than fiction” defense technically could defend almost any unmotivated action a character may take. Anyone can be weird, stupid, or both.
And yet, and yet, there’s still an art to creating insensate onscreen behavior that, well, makes sense. I’d even suggest that conveying authentic irrationality separates the filmmaking women from the girls. If one can’t pull it off, then a movie seems like nothing but a string of incidences justified by, “Well, I thought it would be vivid if …” This is a good deal of both indie and faux-indie film, and Demolition might just be this year’s poster child for disaffected faux-indie insincerity.“Picture it: There’s this business guy. Jake Gyllenhaal or something; he can wear disaffection like nobody’s business. He does investments or some shit, whatever. His wife dies in a car accident and he just, like, checks out of reality. We don’t need to put too much effort into his wife — she mostly shows up in super-short flashbacks, so it’s not like she’s actually a character. Get a good actress to play her anyway, though.
Heather Lind? Sure. Hey, we can justify her blank nature because, like, Gyllenhaal never really knew her, ya feel me? Anyway, Gyllenhaal’s grieving process is super-weird and quirky! He doesn’t outwardly show any emotion, but he starts randomly disassembling shit around him, like his fridge or the bathroom stall at work. All because there’s little things wrong with them and his wife bought him a toolset shortly before she died. Get it? He even writes a complaint letter to a vending machine company that includes all his life details for some reason, and it leads to him entering into a sorta-romantic-but-not-really relationship with a customer service rep who’s also a poor single mom. Call every actress on the list until one says yes. Naomi Watts? Golden.”
Almost all of Demolition feels like filling time on the way from the set-up to the conclusion. It’s somehow supposed to shepherd Gyllenhaal’s character, Davis, to self-realization and closure. This is an entity without a purpose, the actors putting in valiant effort that amounts to thrashing against a torrent of non-meaning. The movie doesn’t pass before your eyes — it goes clear through your head. And the oddest part is that it doesn’t even seem to be trying anything else. The visuals are as sterile as an IKEA diagram of all the parts that come in the box, except even those have a satisfyingly organized sort of beauty to them. This is the very definition of put-the-camera-wherever and well-now-I-guess-we-have-to-cut direction. It’s extraordinarily possible that literally no one will remember this film’s existence a year from now.