500 Days Of Film Reviews Demolition And Finds A Thought-Provoking Portrait Of Grief Starring Jake Gyllenhaal


Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal), a successful investment banker, is struggling to make sense of his life after losing his wife, Julie (Heather Lind) in a tragic car crash.


Despite pressure from his father in law and boss, Phil (Chris Cooper), to pull himself together, Davis' life soon begins to unravel. 


He starts to write what will be a series of complaint letters to a vending machine company - each containing deeply personal admissions. The letters catch the attention of customer service rep, Karen Mareno (Naomi Watts), and the two form an unlikely connection. 


With the help of Karen and her son, Chris (Judah Lewis), Davis starts to rebuild his life.

Is It Any Good?

Demolition starts with an end. The shocking end of a life. The screen goes black and a series of seemingly disconnected images flicker by. It feels as if something has gone wrong with the film’s projection.


However, this is just the first of director Jean Marc Vallee’s visual metaphors on grief. In the same way as we feel that we are suddenly watching a different film, Davis is suddenly living a different life. And he goes into shock.


Society expects this and accepts it as a normal part of the grieving process. We send flowers and cook meals. We bond over drinks and memories, we give people space and time. 


However, Davis’ grief refuses to fit into these acceptable patterns. He is numb, but he realises that he has been that way for years. He can’t cry, he can’t settle and he doesn’t want comfort. 


Grief has made Davis lose the thread of his life. What really matters? Why didn’t he pay attention? Why can’t he feel anything? Does this mean that he didn’t really love his wife? 


Then, Davis he remembers something that his father-in-law, Phil, once said to him: if you want to fix something you’ve got to take it apart and figure out what is important. And this leads Davis to the demolition of the film’s title.



I really enjoyed Jake Gyllenhaal's performance as Davis. I can’t think of another actor who could have portrayed Davis as well and with so much conviction - particularly as he starts to lose touch with the point of his day to day life.


As Davis starts to unravel he begins to take various objects apart. A computer, a toilet cubicle, a fridge. This (of course) is not socially acceptable in terms of the grieving process. His family suggest he ‘talk to someone’.


What they don’t expect is that Davis will start to talk to a customer services rep called Karen, who responds to his deeply personal letters. While the chemistry felt a little flat between Karen and Davis, Naomi Watts plays her part well. Karen is a woman equally lost in her life - struggling with her own issues and with the troubles of her young son.


The three take comfort in each other.


And there is a certain joy to be found in swimming against the tide, in behaving with reckless abandon. Demolition certainly enjoys these moments and many of them are laugh out loud funny. The tone of this film is in no way depressing or overtly 'weepy'.


However, we understand that this way of life cannot last. As I laughed at Davis' random madcap antics, I also found myself feeling uncomfortable. I knew that something was about to go very wrong. 


In the end, of course, things do come to a head. And then we reach a rather hurried and perhaps overly neat conclusion. 



At one point in Demolition, Davis observes that everything feels like a metaphor following the death of his wife. Much of this film is also served up as a metaphor as Vallee examines grief and the grieving process. 


From conversations that I have had with people who have seen this film, Demolition has proved divisive. Some have not connected with the film or with Davis. I can understand their frustration. Demolition is not without flaws and some scenes certainly work better than others.


However, I was willing to go on this journey. Ultimately, this movie is interesting, enjoyable and thought provoking. 


In the hours after watching Demolition, I found myself thinking about what is important in my life and reminding myself to treasure those things and to pay attention - always.


Random Observations

I watched Demolition as part of Odeon’s Screen Unseen series. 


Jean Marc Vallee also directed Wild - another examination of the nature and process of grief. He also directed Dallas Buyers Club. 


Have you seen Demolition? 


If you have, what did you think? Love it or hate it - let me know by leaving a comment in the box below! 

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Jane Douglas-Jones
Jane Douglas-Jones



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