We are all familiar with the sensation of being emotionally numb at one time or another, usually when our mental state is seriously overloaded. “Demolition” is a journey into a man’s feelings, his ability to react, which has become buried in the far reaches of his psyche. This man on the surface appears successful and comfortable by our society’s standards. However, our protagonist has been devoid of emotion for a while, until a horrific instant in his life sets off forces around him and inside his mind that slowly unlock pieces of his long hidden emotive abilities. The framework of the story is unusual. A letter of complaint to a vending machine company sets off a chain of interactions with random people that this man never would have met had it not been for that piece of written communication.

Broken mentally from a totally unexpected catastrophic incident, Davis Mitchell, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, immerses himself into a letter writing campaign blown out of proportion, simply to obtain a refund for a candy bar that became lodged in a vending machine. Yet this overreaction becomes a pathway to his blocked senses. Soon he proceeds to take apart, literally and figuratively, all facets of his life. Jarring scenes of destruction ensue. Items large and small – items that we consider of great value in our society, are joyfully wrecked. Things that we amass to prove our worth, even a sleekly designed home, are smashed with great glee. Unlikely assistance comes in the form of a teenage boy who is going through his own similar growing pains trying to realize his place in the world. He joins Davis in the dramatic catharsis.

While the plot and storyline have some major spinouts, the performances make watching this film worthwhile. Gyllenhaal is never over dramatic as the broken protagonist. Naomi Watts is also subtle as a harried customer service rep, and Chris Cooper is great as a patient, tragic and ultimately fed-up father-in-law.  Newcomer Judah Lewis steals scenes as the teen, even though his character seems to spread in all directions at once (well, life in your teens can be that way).  All the characters come alive with great realism.

Director Jean-Marc Vallee brought with him to this project his cinematographer, Yves Belanger, and production designer, John Paino, from his two previous excellent films, “Dallas Buyers Club” and “Wild.” It is interesting to note that editor Jay M. Glen has no prior credits. Perhaps this name is a pseudonym for the director acting as his own editor: “Jay M” as Vallee’s first two initials and “Glen,” the English meaning for the French “Vallee” (just a guess). “Wild” and “Dallas Buyers Club” were stories with specific beginnings, clear trails and endings.  “Demolition” is more of a dramatic philosophical commentary on how our society dictates the outward personalities that we present to the world, and how tragedy can cause these personas to implode and then regroup, perhaps to create a more truthful presentation in the end. This movie is a tale of destruction and of rising from the ashes.

Rated R, 100 Minutes, Released April 8th

Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which is the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people.  She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. kboole@gmail.com. For previously published reviews see https://kwboole.wordpress.com/.