Norwegian writer and director Joachim Trier is fascinated with time and his work –since his debut film 10 years ago – repeatedly examines how time affects individual. In his last film, Oslo, August 31st, Trier was curious about our perception of time and the ways it affects how others see us. Now, with his latest work, Trier has turned his attention to how time affects the family unit in his English language debut Louder Than Bombs. I can only wonder if the director, who holds dear only a handful of personal features, feels about his own perceived perception in time?
It’s been three years since family matriarch Isabelle Reed (Isabelle Huppert) died in an untimely and mysterious car crash. As a war photographer for the New York Times, the absence of her strength and integrity has left her remaining family in ruin, especially her eldest son, Jonah (Jessie Eisenberg). Following her death, Jonah finds himself with a new baby son to look after, and it’s at this point he has a chance encounter with an old flame who is visiting her dying mother. With new life coming into the world, Jonah feels compelled to return to his old one as he travels alone to visit his widowed father Gene (Gabriel Byrne) and distant younger brother Conrad (Devin Druid).
What follows feels similar to Trier’s other features. His films tend to follow white, upper-middle class creative people who struggle to find solace in the world of their comfortable lives. For Trier, perhaps his message is that, if you live a comfortable life then you lose touch with the chaos of the world around you, which gives meaning to life. As Jonah reconnects with his timid father, who is devoid of any masculine leadership qualities, and a brother who escapes into the fantasy world of video games, Jonah begins to see the parallels between his own rocky relationship with the wife he left behind and the strained relationship of his parents. The rift only grows between father and son once he discovers an upcoming article in the New York Times detailing Isabelle’s death. Jonah and Gene begin to dispute whether Conrad should know the truth about his mother, leaving everyone on uncertain ground.
Louder Than Bombs doesn’t follow a conventional linear narrative but rather illuminates the characters in a realm between reality, memory, and imagination. Trier is fantastic at conveying the inner worlds of the three central characters. With Jonah we see the stress of the introduction to the latter stage of his life leading him to become impulsive and shying away from the responsibilities of his successful career or the family he’s left behind. For the aging and out-of-touch Gene, he begins to reconcile his relationship with his youngest son by following him after school. Finally we have Conrad, who’s at an important crossroads in his life and appears to be the one struggling most without the mother figure in his life. Instead he escapes into fantasy and imagination in search of answers. Altogether, they are a fairly dysfunctional family.
With Isabella’s strenuous career leading to mental instability and a void left in her wake, Trier appears to lament the role of the female lead in the household. Each character is shown to have intimate scenes with their mother or wife, illuminating an aspect of their character. On screen together, however, they lack any intimacy. Is Trier searching for the answers in his characters to what keeps a family together? If so, I wonder if he ever found the answers himself?
As the film draws to its conclusion we are left looking back on the time spent with characters who themselves are looking back in time. Towards the end of the film we see a man reading the paper come across one of Isabelle’s pictures, which he swiftly moves on from without considering it. Does Trier see parallels between his subtle impact in the Norwegian film industry and the impact of Isabelle’s photography in the world around her? Will his films be merely window dressing to a larger picture? I’m unsure, but if Trier wants to take his time to reflect on his past before contributing to his future, I believe he will be all the better for it.
Louder Than Bombs is out on Blu-Ray and DVD from August 15