SXSW Film Review: Jake Gyllenahal Inspires and Amazes in Beautifully Honest ‘Demolition’

Director Jean-Marc Vallee has been on something of a hot-streak recently, with his two latest films (Dallas Buyers Club & Wild) earning nominations left and right. He’s a director interested in the stories of people whom find themselves at the end of a rope. Some way or another, they’ve lost something of themselves along their journey and he loves exploring humanity through the eyes of “flawed” characters looking for something new. His ability to touch the human heart really took me by surprise with Dallas Buyers Club and Wild was one of my favorite films of that year. An actor’s director as well, Vallee certainly gets the most out of all involved in his films and Demolition stands out to me as the best work he’s put out yet, thanks to a beautiful combination of his storytelling and the talent involved.

Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal)’s life is full of things that should make him happy and yet he seems to just go through his daily routine without much notice of what’s going on around him. After the passing of his wife in a car crash which left him mostly unscathed, Mitchell is left not feeling much of anything, just as he hasn’t for as long as he can remember. While the rest of his wife’s family grieves, Davis goes on with his life in an attempt to keep himself in line. Instead, he begins to realize his absent-minded ways and becomes observant of the world around him as he begins to take apart numerous items in his life and finds comfort in embracing honesty.

There’s absolutely no question that Jake Gyllenhaal continues to amaze and surprise with each new role proving he’s as multi-faceted and talented as the greats. Demolition is no exception, as we see a peculiar character emerge from the usual grinning face we know and love. People deal with grief in numerous ways and the honest fragility Gyllenhaal displays works with aspects of comedy and heart at the core. It’s painful to imagine the situation he’s in, but more painful to follow someone who is looking to feel something. Anything, really. His narrated letters reflect a somber attitude, which gradually turns around as he begins to appreciate the things he never did in life. As human’s we become so wrapped up such trivial things that we become unaware to what’s happening to the world and people around us. It’s a terrible revelation to have after such an incident as his, but watching him piece his life back together (or rather dismantle it) is one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had in a film as of late.

As Jean-Marc Vallee said when he was introducing the film, it’s a movie about people. People are so much more than we often think of them and we’re so quick to put down others for being comfortable in their own skin. Anytime something comes across as strange, you have to consider that someone has lived a life you know nothing about and the fact they may not live by your standards. Growing up I never understood why adults didn’t hangout as frequently or in the same capacity as kids do with their friends. Interacting with adults, it seems that they’re still children wearing the masks for the one’s they love as we all try to be the best “adult” we can. It’s an unbelievable sacrifice in my eyes because people don’t change drastically and there’s an unspoken that things have to change because you’re getting older. This film asks you not to judge these characters, but to follow them along this bumpy road that may seem a bit weird to some, but brings happiness and joy to those who were missing it.

As I myself got older, I witnessed firsthand how stupid and petty people can be when it comes to what you enjoy. I’ve been fortunate enough to be in a position where I get to sit among fellow critics I consider my friends each week, as we discuss film and everything surrounding it. In this specific group, I happen to be one of two of the youngest members by anywhere from 5-20 years. It has never once seemed weird or bizarre that some of my best and closest friends are just adults who happen to be older than me, but for some it’s just too much, apparently. I’m consistently learning new things as I gain perspective on so many different lifestyles of these people that I wouldn’t trade for the world. They’re my friends and it’s nice that we also hangout outside of work. At first, I felt strange because people considered me strange for those friendships. Looking back now, it’s so silly that I let someone’s opinion affect what I enjoyed in my life.

Much like Davis, I also have the ability to go off the grid for a bit and become detached, as I assume we all do from time-to-time. Days without contact with some people, not intentionally, but because I’m overwhelmed with what’s happening to me. I wish I could say that I feel bad about it all the time, but I also don’t necessarily because people need their space and the time to do what’s good for them. Sometimes that means working their ass off all day, or sometimes spending a day thinking and nothing more. We all process thoughts and interactions differently and there’s no correct way to do it. Davis, nor myself, intentionally mean to ignore others, as it’s not really us ignoring at all. Recently, those periods of detachment come in the form of long work hours and discovering more of what I enjoy, which often means leaving the phone on silent as I go about my day. Our lack of response shouldn’t be immediately taken as blatant disregard for someone else, just as I assume other people become too busy to respond to me. Everyone is always trying to piece their life together as they go and I feel like that’s something I’m really becoming aware of, as I attempt to live my life while still taking time for the people in it.

Moving away from home really solidified how ignorant I was about certain aspects of life, all because I grew up believing one thing over another. As younger kids, we don’t question much of what we’re told or what we see and we’re not necessary to blame for that. However, it’s absolutely imperative that people get out of their routines every once in a while to consider a different way of thinking or living your life. Spending time listening to others tell their stories is one of the more incredible experiences in life, as your capacity for understanding and empathy grows with each encounter, good and bad. Taking the time to listen and even indulge can make all the difference in not only your life, but someone else’s. We like to think we’re all so important, but I can’t be the only who grows curious about the lives of the strangers around me. You’ll be blown away by the things you’ll hear and how they come to affect the way you see life, treat your fellow humans, and the things you really consider valuable. The stories of heartbreak and redemption especially minimize that value list as the realities of other people’s lives become a factor in your own day-to-day life.

To me and hopefully others, Demolition is a wonderful exercise in humanity as the spectrum of emotions you feel is tested. We all wish we had the confidence to dance around and sing like we do when we’re alone, just as we wish we could be completely honest in all of our interactions. I’m not saying you have to remove your filter or go parading down the streets singing at the top of your lungs, but you should at least consider doing what feels best for you, despite what others may say or think. The greatest thing theatre has done for me is allow me to become more vulnerable and understand humility as I attempt to do what makes me happy. This film is a celebration of humanity in all its confusing, tragic, wonderful, and beautiful moments. Jake Gyllenhaal and Jean-Marc Vallee have accomplished what they set out to do, as this film finds its way to the top of your yearly list, and even into your heart… as cheesy as that sounds.

Demolition movie poster

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