Things We Lost in the Fire
Susanne Bier Does It Again

“Hope comes from letting go,” says the tag line from Things We Lost in the Fire. And how does one let go? The movie’s answer: by reaching out to others in need.

I don’t usually expect consistency from any film director—not that their talents come and go; sometimes they just don’t click with me. But Susanne Bier is batting a thousand in my ballpark. After my enchanting experience with last year’s After the Wedding, I was mildly pleased to draw the assignment to screen her newest film. Granted, I had hoped she could do it again, but I was surprised by Things We Lost in the Fire nonetheless. Between the story by Allan Loeb, the interpretations of director Susanne Bier, and some darn fine acting, this is a classic film with Oscar potential. It is remarkable.

Susanne Bier, director of Things We Lost in the FireLet me define that, specifically: A film that deals honestly with the emotions of tremendous loss, without being over-indulgent or self-consciously smarmy. A portrait of hard, wounding lessons which don’t completely heal. A tragic beginning which is not just a dramatic stunt in order to make a predictable ending seem more profound. A film that does rely on “awesome” special effects or “star power” to hide the fact that the story is programmatic and the conclusion anti-climactic.

Of course that is not to say there are no stars in this film. Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro are accomplished, award-winning actors. Their performances here are natural and easy to watch, true acting in every sense of the word. Their celebrity is not exploited. Their talents are honed and coaxed into finely tuned instruments of redemption.

The story is an insightful masterwork of Allan Loeb about the relationship between Audrey and Jerry, who are brought together because Audrey’s husband dies heroically. Throughout the film, we see why he was a hero, we see why he is missed. And we see how Bryan’s life of serving his friends became a catalyst for change to all he knew.

Because of this hero’s death, Audrey reaches out to the one person she seemed to hate: Jerry, a childhood friend of Bryan’s. Audrey hated Jerry because her husband was a faithful friend to him at often inconvenient times. Jerry was a heroin addict who, in Audrey’s mind, didn’t deserve any help; but Bryan believed in him and visited him on his birthday. He often bought him groceries and tried to encourage him to quit heroin cold turkey and go to a support group. Bryan gave of himself to Jerry; but Jerry couldn’t change until Bryan died.

Audrey almost forgets to tell Jerry about the funeral. On the day of the burial, Audrey sends her brother to tell Jerry and to bring him to the funeral. Out of compassion she decides he needs a safe place to stay and clean up his life.

The interaction between Jerry and Audrey illustrates the strength of serving others in the midst of your own pain. Counselors say it and write books about it: If you are hurting, it is often best to get outside of yourself and give to someone who is needier than you. Being the recipient of charity might not make your troubles go away; but your own giving will.

Jerry receives help from Audrey, who wants to clean up his heroin habit. As she helps him, she becomes more vulnerable and more able to deal with her own loss. She is able to “let go,” as the tag line declares. As Jerry receives her help, he becomes a less consumptive personality and begins to enjoy life as a sober human being.

Things We Lost in the Fire is powerful and engrossing. The characters are engaging. How they develop a relationship and personal victories is exciting and surprising. I cannot imagine a better use of your time.

The cinematography is also effective, playing off night scenes and shots with deep shadows against closeups that enhance the feeling of intimacy, bereavement and helplessness. Daylight shots are filtered—and of course the story takes place in Seattle (Hollywood-speak for Vancouver, B.C.), so the weather cooperates with a somber mood.

Certainly, we all need some entertainment occasionally. However, while you are at it, how about inserting a little generosity and emotional beauty into your own relationships? I’d call that a bargain. Things We Lost in the Fire is not a trifle; it is a great challenge to us all. We can be better. We can rise above our current state. We have just been looking in the wrong place. Move away from the mirror.

This movie did not go as I expected… and that is a good thing.

Things We Lost in the Fire is rated R for “drug content and language.” I guess that is right. It seemed more like a PG-13 to me, but it is an adult film with mature themes. I was happily surprised that this film did not end up being a crisis/romance movie. It is an accurate and powerful portrayal of the power of caring for others.

Courtesy of local publicist, Mike attended a press screening of Things We Lost in the Fire.