In his new film Louder than bombs Norwegian director Joachim Trier masterfully captures the underlying, aimless desires of very decent people who struggle to be authentic in their own lives. Written by Trier and Eskil Vogt, the film is structured as a collage of episodes that fit together like a perfect puzzle, packed with emotions let loose by the death of the mother and wife of a suburban New York family. The action does not offer anything overtly dramatic, yet the emotional intensity is louder than bombs which the dead woman famously photographed in the war zones around the world. Those still images pulse with explosive emotions; the actual lives of the protagonists are woefully devoid of that raw energy of authentic, harsh life. The players, however, keep searching for what they cannot have and do not possess any more.
Three years on, the father and two sons keep trying to make sense of their lives, left rudderless after the death of the mother and wife. She is played as beautifully as ever by the wonderful Isabelle Hupert. Cinematographer Jakob Ihre gives us a full measure of her expressive face in unforgettable close ups on the scale of Bergman’s famous shots of Victor Sjöström’s face in Wild Strawberries, or Visconti’s close up of Burt Lancaster in The Leopard. We see her in flashbacks, edited to perfection by Olivier Bugge Coutté, with her searching eyes that have seen so much outside her suburban domestic routine. She knows that she loves her husband and sons, yet struggles to understand why that knowing of love does not exactly feel like love when she is with them.
For them, her comings and goings to and from the war zones have filled the family life with a measure of second-hand authenticity. Her death pushes them to examine the void that suddenly presents itself as mundane and unsatisfying. They have everything the people she photographed lacked, yet they are the ones left lacking.
Each tries to understand his own circumstances and his place in his own life. Living seems a difficult task, and it’s that difficulty of living in a contemporary western society that is the subject of Trier’s precise, powerful examination. He guides his actors to heights rarely seen these days, with Gabriel Byrne’s father outshining everything he has done before this film, and Jesse Eisenberg as the older son and very confused new father giving a perfectly calibrated, nuanced performance. The emotional center of the film rests with the teenage son, played by the incredibly talented Devin Druid in a career-making turn that might very well net him a handful of awards.
Trier’s work with actors, his writing, and his taut treatment of the difficult subject of contemporary search for our human core in a world that lacks any sense any more is the great sum of Louder than Bombs emotions. Trier catches us in his carefully plotted net and lets us feel the confused emotions of people living good but ultimately unsatisfying lives, struggling with the realization that it is what it is and not more. This is a film that charts a whole new course, a singular one, with people trying to figure out how to live life after it is no longer possible to just let life play itself. An extra marital affair or a computer game are the devices that provide semblance of a pulsing life, in the same way that any activity outside of daily routine provides anyone living today with a sense of accomplishment. Trier beautifully captures the moment in time of the still comfortable middle class, and displays a great understanding of the human soul – at least the woefully self-centered and self-examining, quietly and politely dissatisfied one that inhabits the body of a Western man and woman.
Louder Than Bombs, 2015, 109 min.
U.S. Distributor: The Orchard
U.S. Release: April 8, 2016
Director: Joachim Trier
Writers: Joachim Trier and Eskil Vogt
Cinematography: Jakob Ihre
Editor: Olivier Bugge Coutté
Music: Ola Fløttum
CAST: Gabriel Byrne, Isabelle Huppert, Jesse Eisenberg, Devin Druid, Rachel Brosnahan, Megan Ketch, David Strathairn, Amy Ryan.