By Matthew Balz
Written by Joachim Trier and Eskil Vogt, this internationally-produced follow up to Trier’s modest Oslo, August 31st explores a grander landscape of visual aesthetics and story which enriches the existential family drama. In his previous film, Trier demonstrated a natural eye and ear for social interaction arising from both the silence and noise between characters, or simply within one’s own head. Louder Than Bombs serves as the next step in a talented director’s expanding perspective on human struggle for peace and spiritual stability.
We are introduced, scene by scene, to the members of a family still haunted by death. Gabriel Byrne plays Gene whose wife was killed in a car accident years ago. Isabelle, Gene’s wife, as portrayed by Isabelle Huppert, is shown through flashbacks and memories as a prominent photographer whose body of work flourishes amid wartime atrocities. Brothers Jonah and Conrad capture the emotional responsibilities of family, affection, and adulthood. The sight of this family is enough to reverberate heavy tones of trust and passions fractured after years of disconnect. Jonah, played by Jesse Eisenberg, has just witnessed the birth of his first child and yet finds his greatest comfort in the past; encounters with an old girlfriend, unexplored photos taken by his mother, and sleeping under the roof of his father’s house. Conrad, the youngest brother played powerfully by Devin Druid, cowers inside his own skin, devoid of any strong relationship outside of his own computer. Meanwhile, the father figure of this family harbors a secret relationship with his son’s teacher, perpetually maintaining an unnecessary faithfulness to his deceased wife.
Louder Than Bombs drowns its 110-minute timeline with character development, cycling through characters as their own discoveries and actions bounce off one another, propelling each unspoken word to erupt. Memories and dream-like fantasies intertwine across the screen with fluid arrangement, delivering a relatable emotion to quiet sequences. As Conrad approaches the window of a street-side coffee shop wherein his crush chats with her friends, we watch his imaginary interactions speak on his desires and limitations. As quickly as scenes transition into the next, enough time is carefully given to the performances to situate and saturate the screen with due humanity.
Louder Than Bombs is a well-plotted journey through the corners of grief, acceptance, and the stages of adulthood that blossom as a result. Trier sets each family member with an enviable array of emotional complexity and personality, allowing every executed decision–no matter how flawed or disagreeable–to represent a real person with real moral dilemmas.