Psychotic Love in the Face of Tragic Loss: An Open Letter to Jean-Marc Vallée / by Samuel B. Prime

Dear Director Vallée,

In your film DEMOLITION, Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal) writes a series of increasingly emotionally revealing letters to a vending machine company when - following the sudden and tragic death of his wife - his bag of Peanut M&Ms gets caught in the metal coil. Although I have never known the companionship of a wife, I do empathize with Mr. Mitchell's situation. I, too, have known the considerable frustration of an unsuccessful transaction with a snack-dispensing robot. A thin pane of glass divides the worlds of hunger and satisfaction. Otherwise, I am writing you this open letter because it seems thematically appropriate and usefully provocative.

I did not pay to see your movie, so this is not a clever and/or rude attempt on my part to demand a refund (as does Mr. Mitchell in DEMOLITION). On the contrary, I was invited to the Fox Studios lot to see the movie earlier this week and allowed to bring a friend as a +1 to view the film before its April 8th release date. I know that you did not personally approve my attendance, but I still think a 'thank you' is in order. It is always a true pleasure to receive - and accept - such invitations. As to the movie itself, I enjoyed it. It struck me as a portrayal of psychotic love in the face of tragic loss. From the moment where Mitchell whispers the word "metaphor" to himself in a hushed narration, I was onboard to witness the dangerous (that word) downward spiral of a man who - although rich, successful, and living a charmed life - fails to recognize his insane behavior due to the blinding pain of loss.

Jake Gyllenhaal's performance was particularly effective, from his most destructive moments reminiscent of a low stakes, white-collar FIGHT CLUB to his absurdly, idiotically tender moments flapping like a seagull on the beach. And although the film ratchets back and forth between 'violence' and 'melodrama,' passing by 'quirk' each go-around, I actually found the film terrifying. Especially with the introduction of Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts), a customer service agent who becomes enamored of Mitchell's story told through his letters and stalks him, your film was portraying more or less my exact nightmare. That a love would form between these individuals under these alarming circumstances confirms their mutual insanity. And neither has the presence of mind to realize it.

I liked this movie. I was entertained. However, I do think part of my enjoyment came about as a result of surprise. On a rewatch, this delight would dissipate - much as with Werner Herzog's BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS (2009). Did you see that movie? In one scene, Terence McDonagh (Nicolas Cage) says of a recently departed character: "His soul is breakdancing." Additionally, I think that the latter half of your movie is unnecessarily plot-heavy. We already have the story of a man's breakdown following the death of his wife. Do we also need the story of infidelity and an aborted child; a young boy's confusion about his sexual identity; the mystery of the station wagon; Karen's possibly problematic narcotic dependency; the meaningless carousel? Many of these elements felt like they were powerful enough to warrant their own movie, whereas including them as asides served to distract from the main idea. That said, I never felt that the pacing or performances suffered because of their inclusion, so - in spite of my thoughts - you are the professional and know what you are doing.

DEMOLITION is not quite the subversive masterpiece I had hoped and no doubt some audiences are simply not interested in another story about a rich white dude dressing up like an off-duty fireman to shout his (emotional) pain away, but - as I mentioned - your movie entertained me, brought a smile to my face, and left me with some fond memories of the experience. That's really the greatest gift one human being can give to another: a memory. There may come a time in my life - due to distance or disease - where I forget about your movie and the sincere enjoyment I felt in watching it and moments thereafter but for now, as I write this, it is at the forefront of my mind.


Samuel B. Prime

Founder, LA Ciné Salon

DEMOLITION is currently in theaters nationwide via Fox Searchlight, including 35+ theaters in the LA area.