Published Apr 07, 2016At one point in Demolition, Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée's latest drama, lead character Davis Mitchell (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) looks out the window of his luxury car and, in his mumbling inner monologue, states that everything seems like a metaphor to him now — from the fallen tree to the music on the radio — after the tragic death of his wife and the startling realization that he didn't love her. For Davis, the world is sending him some sort of message, and an obvious one at that (even though he can't quite fully describe it in words).
Similarly, it's not hard to see Demolition — a movie about one man's attempt to make sense of his life by destroying everything around him — as some sort of allegory for the existential crisis one experiences when faced with the emptiness of the human condition in the 21st century, when all the information anyone could ask for is at our fingertips, yet clear meaning is ever harder to find.
Davis is the kind of guy most business school bros dream of being: he lives in a post-modern monstrosity of a two-storey, works in New York City as an investment banker, has a philanthropic and pretty wife (played by Heather Lind), but doesn't deserve any of it; Davis, we learn, cheated his way through school, got his job through nepotism (his dick of a father-in-law, played by Chris Cooper) and doesn't really have a passion for anything, including the so-called love-of-his-life.
So when his wife dies in a car accident (in which he was the passenger), Davis feels neither sad nor traumatized; he simply wants to take everything apart (including, but not limited to, grandfather clocks, fridges and, eventually, the house he lives in).
Demolition isn't a subtle movie, but Vallée still manages to approach screenwriter Bryan Sipe's at-times clumsy and obvious observations and symbolism like a master beveller, smoothing out any rough patches even though on screen it's pure chaos.
Stodgy cinephiles may find fault in the process, and there's no doubting this is Vallée's silliest and most light-hearted film yet; the main impetus for the film's action, after all, involves Davis writing a series of long-winded, angry complaints to a local vending machine company after being unable to pull a bag of Peanut M&M's out of one of their products, and then developing an unlikely friendship with the woman in charge of customer service (Naomi Watts) and her classic rock-loving son (relative newcomer but future star Judah Lewis).
Still, for a film featuring a scene involving Gyllenhaal prancing through Manhattan listening to Heart's "Crazy for You" while wearing overalls and construction boots, Demolition is a pretty relatable picture, and may be one of the best performances of his career.