Louder Than Bombs
Directed by Joachim Trier
Three years after his wife, acclaimed photographer Isabelle Reed, dies in a car crash, Gene keeps everyday life going with his shy teenage son, Conrad. A planned exhibition of Isabelle’s photographs prompts Gene's older son, Jonah, to return to the house he grew up in - and for the first time in a very long time, the father and the two brothers are living under the same roof.
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★★★½ review by Sam M. on Letterboxd
So there's this one moment in the film where Jessie Eisenberg and a former girlfriend are discussing his deceased mother and he says something like this:
"Yeah, she was just, the most incredible woman, one of the great photographers, that's what they said. Such an amazing person."
The girlfriend responds:
"Yeah, I know, you talked about her all the time."
"Oh, did I?"
"Did she meet your expectations? When you met her."
"But she seemed...I don't know the word. Fragile. That's not the right word. Fragile isn't right."
"No, I get it."
(another pause, then he says)
"Would you have said that if you didn't know what happened to her after?"
"No, probably not."
And I burst out sobbing in a deep way that I have not sobbed in a movie theater as far back as I can remember.
★★★½ review by Wesley R. Ball on Letterboxd
It never once began to occur to me just how brief life really is until after Robert died. I knew that death was certain, but the reality of it never struck me until after I lost him. We're only put here for a short time, and then before we know it, everything is gone. Perhaps I've let his departure affect me a little more than I should have, but am I wrong for letting it do so? Is the fact that the sudden shocking realization that someone only a few months my junior passed away before either of us even completed college, before we even really began to live out our lives, shook me to my core in such a way that I've never been the same since, such a bad thing? Am I wrong for writing countless things that reflect on our brief times together and how much they really meant to me? Do I write too much on one person whom I only really knew for maybe five years at the most? I mean, we had such an instant connection that we kept together right from the start, we developed such a great relationship that I think the thought of losing someone so akin to myself made me wonder if I ever really was a good friend to him. Maybe I wasn't such a good friend. Maybe I really didn't even know Robert like I thought I did. There has to more to him than the pianist superhero fanboy that I knew, right? But how could I really know anything about him if I only was able to spend such brief moments with him? I feel like I've taken our friendship for granted at times, and the way I just swept over just how good of a friend he was to me has left me filled with regret. A sinking feeling inside that I could have been so much better a friend to him. A feeling that maybe I don't deserve to have any friends at all. Maybe I'm secretly narcissistic and don't realize it. I always thought that I would be able to skim through my adolescent college years with such ease that it never really occurred to me what I could be missing. Not until after I lost everything.
Louder than Bombs is jumbled up by a fractured narrative that constantly switches between the past and the present, never really ensuring we know exactly where in this film's timeline we are. I can see what director Joachim Trier was trying to achieve with this narration style, however. A feeling of trying to piece together the past in an attempt to make sense of the life and relationship these protagonists held with the one they lost. The wife. The mother. They begin to reflect and remember their times with her, both the good and the bad. Sometimes, blame is put on others for the loss of this loved one. It can become so easy at times to blame others or even ourselves for the loss of someone. The thought of what could have been done to prevent their loss or even to spend just a little more time with them begins to overtake the mind. What happened. What could have happened. How to cope and move on.
Trier's characters are self-centered, but to a degree this is understandable. They all seem to carry some sort of grief and pain with their loss, despite the years. Something still hangs over their heads that refuses to allow them to retain some sort of innate happiness, like they need some kind of closure that is just out of their reach. Each of the characters remember the subject character in their own light, giving vastly different views on the same individual. But do all of these counterviews reflect who she really was? Can we really get the entire story on who someone is only from one viewpoint? I could write for hours on Robert, but would it really tell you anything about who he was? Sure, it would give you the essentials, but it would only really tell you who he was to me. Maybe to his parents, he wasn't only a superhero fanatic who was insanely great at the piano. Maybe he had characteristics and interests that he never told me about. Maybe he wasn't even the same person when I wasn't around. I can never know for sure, for I only know what I do from my moments with him.
Louder than Bombs loosely connects these fractured viewpoints in an attempt to assemble a portrait of who its subject character really was. The film lacks some closure on this topic in the end, only briefly glazing over the real issue periodically, but the heart of the conflict is the three protagonists themselves. The truth is that they are all unbelievable pieces of garbage. A lot of people may find difficulty in finding any real connection with these characters because of their lack of relatability or positive qualities, but their own traumatic loss seems to echo this trauma. They each find themselves in some sort of "midlife crisis" that has a ripple effect on all three of them, in a sordid attempt to find some kind of catalyst to move on with their lives. It's a depiction of traumatic depression that had the potential to speak powerful volumes, but felt a bit too rushed to provide any sort of real impact.
Despite being a weak narrative, Louder than Bombs tries to hit its audience as hard as it can with startling revelations about its subject character. The problem is that the three protagonists come off as such terribly self-centered people that many may find it incredibly difficult to really connect with them in any way. I can sympathize with these viewers, but at the same time I feels as if I am the same way. I feel that the sudden loss of my friend had such an impact on me that took such a long time to fully manifest itself that I wasn't completely sure how to react. The brevity of life is something that we don't think of every day (who would, really?), but it's certainly something that has been in the back of my mind for the many months that have passed since Robert left. Louder than Bombs takes these thoughts I had an places them on the screen in an attempt to characterize feelings that I had then and have at times now, trying to piece together a lovely portrayal of acceptance and revelation. It's something that I can tell was trying to make itself known, but wasn't as accurately portrayed as it could have been. Nevertheless, its messages hit me almost literally like a bomb, and for that I cannot hate it.
★★★½ review by Brendan Michaels on Letterboxd
I really liked this film. It's probably the best depiction of grief in 2016 as it makes the characters human and grounded. Gabriel Byrne is great in it, Jessie Eisenberg is also great in it, and Isabelle Huppert is fantastic! But the standout would have to be Devin Druid. He plays his character very realistically and makes from an interesting character study in PTSD. I liked how they flashbacked to the past or narrate certain peoples thoughts or depict dream sequences. Right now I'm debating whether it's a 7/10 or an 8/10 but that'll be determined on a rewatch. Definitely check out out. It's on Amazon Instant if you want to see it.
★★★★ review by Leticia Fernandes on Letterboxd
Not to be fake deep but I've been sitting here trying to think of what to write for this and all I keep coming up with is 'it hurts.'
★★★½ review by Jason Ooi on Letterboxd
Joachim Trier's first English feature presents three slight character studies under the influence of a fourth character. Filled with fascinating subtext and dreamy metaphor, Louder Than Bombs says a lot with very little.
The story is fairly simple: emotions regarding a death in the family can't help but spill out after two years of repression when a newspaper article threatens to reveal the true nature of the death of matriarch Isabelle, played by the legendary Isabelle Huppert. The family she left behind - the father Gene, and two sons Jonah, Sociology professor and new parent, and Caleb, angsty teenager in his trouble-years, remain irrevocably shaken and are forced to reexamine their strained relationships with each other.
Trier confronts the duality of all four of these family members, individualizing each one and creating complex portraits of four people at different points in their lives, dealing with the difficulties of moving forward. Characters resemble reality even if the film's proclivity for the metaphysical doesn't: they are all sympathetic and simultaneously detestable: flawed.
The use of profession as a mode of characterization transcends the on-the-nose nature of merely having Gene and Isabelle's professions as wartime photographer and actor respectively. The film uses this device in a fascinating way, taking it to the next level: Gene gives up acting to become a literal (high school) teacher to be home for his children afterschool - just as Jonah conveniently finishes his doctorate and becomes a professor once he too becomes a father. Trier forges these bonds between the members of the family in an extremely subtle way. Certain characters make observations about themselves that go unnoticed by other characters, who then show off the same tendencies. Though the members of the family feel isolated from each other, hiding their true feelings, the invisible connections that they do have are clear.
As is often an issue with making films outside of one's native language, certain qualities of Louder Than Bomb feel less assured - more amateur. The film is plagued by an uneven pacing that drags at moments; certain directorial decisions in order to create more depth within specific characters feels forced and unnecessary. And the contrast between the highs and the melodramatic lows is too sharp to feel anything but tonally conflicted.
Still the emotional core is clear, heightened by a powerful but gentle score by Ola Fløttum, and spectacular performances all around, specifically from Jesse Eisenberg, who rarely surprises. With more reward within the plot and a sustained focus within the script, the movie could perhaps be a masterpiece, but it is still a solid and meaningful effort.
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