Destruct & Rebuild: The Aesthetics of Demolition

By Lily Zhang



If you are a big fan of Jake Gyllenhaal for his delicate acting, the film of “Demolition” would definitely be on your top list. On top of his good look with a spark of melancholy and tenderness, Gyllenhaal always chooses a movie script that he would fit in.

It is hard to say that which element contributes the most in the “Demolition” – the directing, the story, the acting, and the editing seem to be very balanced in the film. Hardly any part falls short, which shows that the producer has done an excellent job in coming up with a distinguished set-up that flows throughout the movie.

If you ever seen the “Dallas Buyers Club” and found yourself indulged with Jean-Marc Vallée’s style, you can possibly predict what you’ll see on the screen this time, but not all of it. For one thing, no matter faced with a complicated social problem or a piece of emotional personal narratives, Vallée always has his own way to break the story in parts then reconstruct it. The audience will be touched by the director’s sparkling talents for allowing them to dive into the yellow-green-faded moving pictures on the screen.

For another, Vallée is always good at semiotics of cinema. He is an adept in using all kinds of signs and metaphors without being too nerdy or obscure. By decoding some of the signs, you will find a tacit understanding between you and the man behind the camera, which is a fabulous feeling beyond language and one of the biggest funs for watching his movie.

“Demolition” features a man called Davis Mitchell (by Gyllenhaal), an investment banker living in a Mercer Island style house with his wife. If you are a person using IMDB before going to the theatre, the content below won’t be a spoiler. The story starts with the death of Mitchell’s wife in a car accident. From then on, the man lives a normal life on the surface. Nothing changed. However, every tiny abnormal detail was telling him that the old days have passed away. Something on the inside has changed, and something is no longer there.

There are many lines with meaningful metaphors in the film. Some of them direct the plot to an illogical way. The storyteller seems to be very experienced in the game of metaphors. Just as Mitchell said in the film, “From this moment, everything has become a metaphor.” The film is a playground for implications and puns. The title “Demolition” is one of them. The Chinese translation of the title is “破碎人生” which literally means the broken life seems to take its inner meaning.

But as a viewer, you cannot miss the outer meaning of this word: the action sequence depicting how they demolished the house was fabulous. We find aesthetics of violence in the rock-style montages. It seems that “destruct and rebuild” has become a favorite theme for all the post-modern artists. If we treated “Dallas” as a destruct and rebuild for the rules of a community in the public sphere, “Demolition” would be the theme in the private sphere. However, by no means the two have the same story. Some directors keep telling one story for their whole life, but that is also the only one worth telling.

Gender identity issues for the youth is also one of Vallée favorites. Keep that in your mind whenever you see a good-looking boy in his film. To some degree, the film also explores the father-son relationship. While the child is intended to represents hope, hope can also be smashed sometimes. But a good storyteller will never leave you in despairs. Even if everything is broken, life has to go on one way or another. If you play your favorite song while doing the demolition, you should enjoy the rebirth under the ruins.

“Demolition” is by no means a dull film. With all the surprising turning points and witty lines, you can soon forget about the popcorn you are holding or the urge to use the restroom. Expect to be accompanied with people’s laughs and gasps during the 100-minute film.