In Louder than Bombs, when noted war photographer Isabelle Reed (Isabelle Huppert) dies on the eve of an exhibition honoring her work, her husband Gene (Gabriel Byrne) and two sons, Jonah and Conrad (Jesse Eisenberg and Devin Druid), must deal with their grief. Each has a different approach to the difficult time. Each must come to terms with the way their relationship with her evolved.
For Gene, it is a time of struggling to connect with Conrad, who has taken refuge in video games. Jonah, a new father, takes leave from his career and new family to catalogue his mother’s photos. There are many ways that these characters are all hiding from the grief that they must deal with—and also from the fears of what life may become for them. Their memories are sometimes painful and at other times joyous. They will discover secrets about one another and about their mother. Eventually they must choose on how they will deal with their grief and how to move from this time of death and darkness to a way back to life.
One of the issues that all must deal with is that Isabelle was somewhat detached from them all. She would be gone for long periods to war zones, where she would be in danger, leaving her family behind to worry. Even when we see her pictures of women in those war zones, the faces seem blank, as if reflecting Isabelle. We can’t tell if faces reflect boredom, anger, or oppression. It is that same kind of detachment that seems to be growing within Jonah. With a newborn baby at home, he spends his time at his father’s house dealing with the massive number of his mother’s pictures. He seems to be avoiding his own role as husband and father, just as his mother may have been avoiding her role with the family.
Grief is one of the universal themes that film can address. As we watch the Reed family deal with the grief in their life, we feel a connection with them because we have been there as well. Even in relationships that may not have been all we might wish they had been, the loss of one who holds an important place in our lives is a struggle that is so difficult that many may look for ways to avoid it. But in time, it must be faced.
Photos courtesy of The Orchard.