Monday, May 15, 2017

Louder than Bombs


Brave; skillful with the camera; able to empathize with the locals and tell their story; Isabelle Reed (Isabelle Huppert), a famed war photographer, died in a head on collision just a mile away from her home. At first glance, it looked like her luck just ran out after all the near misses.

Isabelle is survived by her husband Ben (Gabriel Byrne) and her sons Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg) and Conrad (Devin Druid).

It would have been a simple story. She’s just one of those who’ve been to war, survived, and yet met their end at home. An accident would have been a simple but looking deeper it wasn’t an accident. Isabelle committed suicide and rammed (implied by the movie) into that truck herself. Why? This is the story of Louder than Bombs.

Judging from the title I assumed that Isabelle was alive and that the story would focus on her war experience. Maybe there’s a crime she saw; suffering that she can’t forget until it consumed her. I never thought it would be a domestic issue. It’s still about her but the perspective was all muddy.

It felt so muddy in fact the story didn’t make a pop in my head much less be louder than a bomb. Instead of one coherent portrait of a mother and war photographer the story was divided into three points of view, which wasn’t bad in itself. Problem was father and son didn’t have 'the talk', much less a full conflict, which could have eventually created a whole picture.

For Ben he always half expects his wife to never come home from an assignment and he said as much to her. I am single, no children; I don’t know what Ben meant. I do know the fear of one day losing a loved one – terminal illness – that I build a wall maybe prematurely; hoping it’ll minimize the hurt. Doing this you’d never thought anyone can see; a private preparation; an imaginary wall. Could Ben be talking the same?

But how does this help me knowing Isabelle? When Ben mentioned this she barely made a push back. This photographer of people suffering in wars could not answer her husband back clearly.

In another scene she was even weirder. She had a dream which she describes to Ben. In it she was being raped but she felt nothing. Ben was there, just within reach, but only watching intently and smoking. No, nothing helped me one bit. How would I know what hurts her if she doesn’t push back? 

It gets confusing with the sons, or maybe sadder. The husbands, being a married and all, do most of the confrontation if something’s wrong. The sons, they never confronted Isabelle especially the youngest, Conrad, who is unaware that Isabelle’s death was a suicide. What did the sons do that mother think it was OK to kill herself?

Conrad is the hardest to watch because he is a detached young man who lives in his own head. His scenes have a tendency to go into dream sequences and can thus be jarring. There are flashbacks, points of view, and dream sequences – hard to picture who Isabelle is under all that.

I don’t know what Jonah’s problem is. Did knowing a parent had an affair make him give up on his marriage? In any case he didn’t confront his father of the affair so did it really bother him?

This is what you get when the family didn’t have the talk. There’s no single view of Isabelle. Everything is true from a certain point of view.

But come to think of it, do people really do a post mortem on a loved one that committed suicide as if it was a failed company product? Make it list compare it with another – this is what I think who mom is how about you? Do people do that? The Reed family needs the talk now because Richard (David Strathairn) gave fair warning that Isabelle’s death won’t be romanticized in an article that he plans to write. That set things into motion.

Ironically it is Richard, a fellow war photographer, who gave a clear picture of what Isabelle might have felt; the Richard who had an affair with Isabelle. Louder than Bombs version of a climax is Ben confronting Richard and having the most civilized discussion imaginable, under the circumstances. If cooler minds prevailed, yes Richard would have the perfect view of what Isabelle had gone through.

For the emotional mind though, would any spouse have accepted anything from the other man/woman? I had in a mind a defense born out of injured pride which Ben would say: ‘how dare you imply you know my wife more than I do!’

Ultimately, I think it’s accurate to say that Isabelle, like many others, never really came home after the wars that she covered. She loves her family but she feels unneeded. Was the sound of a family she no longer understood the one that is louder than bomb? 

It’s never one thing. Maybe that’s the point? If a loved one did the same as what Isabelle did then the chance for answers has already been missed. All we can hope for is a memory that we can live with.