If there is a truth in life, it is a simple one: everybody is trying their best. It’s an often-difficult truth to accept because it is far too easy to criticize one another for their shortcomings, their mistakes, their screw-ups. Even though people in glasshouses shouldn’t throw stones, they commonly do. And, so, we soldier forth trying to make it through this world as best we can, trying desperately to understand one another.
Joachim Trier’s third film, Louder Than Bombs, is about that desperate search for the truth, both within and without.
Three years ago, renowned war photojournalist Isabelle (Isabelle Huppert) perished in a car crash. Her husband, Gene (Gabriel Byrne), and two sons, Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg) and Conrad (Devin Druid), were devastated, but they survived. Jonah finished college, met a girl and started a family. Gene raised Conrad as best he could and Conrad, despite being a teenage boy, has grown up fairly well. It looks like they survived the trauma of loss relatively unscathed, until a retrospective of Isabelle’s work dredges up old memories and exposes many unhealed wounds.
All of this is instigated by Isabelle’s former editor, Richard (David Strathairn), who is working on a promotional piece of the show for the New York Times and has decided not to sugar coat Isabelle’s death and tell the truth: Isabelle’s work was emotionally draining, and it caused her to fall into a deep depression; her accident was no accident, but a suicide. Gene nods, he suspected that was the truth all along, as does Jonah, but Conrad was too young when mother died, and now Gene has to come clean.
But Conrad doesn’t want to engage with anyone, least of all his father who is sleeping with his teacher (Amy Ryan). Jonah can’t be the one to tell him, because Jonah is barely keeping it together — he refuses to go home to his wife and new baby and instead sleeps with an old girlfriend (Rachel Brosnahan). In the absence of one woman, these men turn to many women, and with empty results.
There is a lot of grief in Louder Than Bombs, but it is not what the movie wants audiences to take home. Instead, Trier — who co-wrote the screenplay with Eskil Vogt — is more interested in how characters move forward in spite of terrible tragedy. Gene and Jonah seek the arms of another in hopes that they can fill the void left behind. Conrad cannot. He is too young, too inexperienced to hide behind a young girls knickers to feel good. Instead, he has to deal with his emotions, and he does, through stream-of-consciousness writings and fantasies of a classmate and cheerleader, Melanie (Ruby Jerins).
Melanie is a cute infatuation, but she is not Conrad’s salvation. Instead, she will help Conrad come to terms with his mother, a presence that Conrad still feels in his life. Regardless what life throws at the three of them, Conrad is the how Isabelle remains a part of the family — with all four of them just trying to do their best.