Digging for Fire (2015) is, in many ways, two separate films. What starts as one story separates into two, and each are followed in tandem until they reunite again in the final moments. Though the central characters of each half - Tim (Jack Johnson) and Lee (Rosemarie Dewitt) - are both taking us on their own similar internal journeys, the ways in which they go about their self-discoveries are vastly different.
Tim spends his weekend stuck in a hole in the ground, obsessively digging at the earth in search of a dead body. Lee takes to a weekend of freedom and exploration, jaunting all over the city with a sense of nonchalance about destination or motivation.
When speaking to Moveablefest, director Joe Swanberg said this decision wasn't just the way he chose to dictate the story, but stems from his contemporary views on men and women and the roles they play in society and American culture. “She’s travelling all around Los Angeles to these big expansive spaces and Jake [Tim] is just looking for something in the ground that’s already dead," Swanberg says. "Even if he finds it, it’s something that’s from the past, not from the future, and Rosemarie’s [Lee] looking out into the universe for answers.”
The cap of this stylistic theme comes when Lee’s night of adventure is almost over. A random woman on the beach tells her to look through a telescope, and in doing so, she’s clearly able to see the rings on Saturn. The next scene has Tim, completely surrounded by the earth in his self-dug hole, finally uncovering the wedding ring (and skeletal hand) of the corpse he’s been hunting. Lee’s consistent expansion of universe is juxtaposed with Tim’s ever-shrinking environment. The film doesn't hesitate to remind men of Swanberg's perspective - it's time to step up and become more than the historical definitions of manhood, and offer something unique and necessary.
“Right now, everything that’s exciting that going on has to do with women,” Swanberg continued. “That’s just where it’s at. I think guys are really at a complicated, confusing point because the necessity of men seems to be at an all-time low. Guys are trying to figure out what we have to contribute because mostly we don’t need big strong muscles anymore. It’s just not very necessary in modern life.”
It’s a film that examines a couple’s relationship when the people under the microscope spend the majority of the film apart. Digging for Fire pulls it off by employing actors that showcase reminders of personality bits that exist within most of us. The landscapes each character inhabit speak to the breadth of emotions most people experience in adulthood, and in parenthood. The film understands both - the need for expansion and the preoccupation with focus - and ultimately keeps its central characters together, as they each appreciate the value of seasoned understanding and evolution that comes with an adult relationship.