All quiet on the home front in Causeway.
It’s a film of silence. It begins silently with Jennifer Lawrence seen from behind in a wheelchair being wheeled wordlessly out of a military facility to a waiting van.
Her character, Lynsey, is a soldier from Afghanistan who suffers from a traumatic brain injury after being wounded in an IED attack. She needs physical therapy to relearn to stand up straight, bathe, walk, and eventually take care of her physical self. There are no outward signs of physical trauma. Your wounds are internal.
And Lawrence’s performance is very internal. Her face, unfathomable, thoughtful, is the film’s most striking image. There is sadness, suppressed. There is uncertainty, disguised. There is determination that hovers just below the surface.
This is a damaged woman trying to heal. That’s one woman alone.
Director Lila Neugebauer emphasizes this by placing them in empty spaces. Alone in bed in a nursing home. First alone in her own house, a shabby house in a seedy neighborhood in New Orleans. She returns there a day earlier than expected and her mother is not there to greet her. And when the mother, played by Linda Emond, shows up, there’s no joy, no hug at the moment. You are alienated. Even in the presence of her mother, she is essentially alone.
Her determination is manifested in her desire to recover sufficiently to return to active duty. There is nothing for her in New Orleans, which is why she joined the army in the first place: to get away. A war zone is also preferable to that. Her doctor, played by Stephen McKinley Henderson, tries to talk her out of it. It is doubtful that the army will allow her to return to the ranks. She needs the doctor’s approval to apply for reinstatement. At first he won’t.
To make a living while trying to change the doctor’s mind, she takes the only job she can get: cleaning swimming pools.
Her self-isolation begins to unravel when a problem with the car brings her to the garage owned by a black mechanic named James, played by Brian Tyree Henry. When he discovers that she cannot remember her phone number, he recognizes her as a victim and sympathizes with her plight.
His empathy stems from the fact that he’s also damaged. He lost part of a leg after a horrific car accident on the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway (hence the picture’s title). His passenger, a nephew, died in the wreck. Then his wife left him. So he knows about damage.
A friendship develops, but cautiously. Romance isn’t possible, not because of race, but because she’s gay and he’s not.
Henry’s performance is finely nuanced. His character is alternately cheerful, thoughtful, tormented. His performance and Lawrence’s complement each other. They play well.
Some of the best scenes are the ones where they quietly exchange confidences. The friendship deepens, but caution sets in as love seems to enter the equation. This leaves them both confused, prompting James to angrily ask, “What is this? What are we doing here?”
It is the defining question of the image. The defining image that follows shows Lawrence standing at the edge of a pool and scrubbing. The camera is pulled far back to emphasize how alone this woman is.