Then what the hell was the point of all this?
All Lynsey (Jennifer Lawrence) wanted to do growing up was get away. From her junkie brother (Russell Harvard‘s Justin). From her unreliable and selfish mother (Linda Emond‘s Gloria). From the house that reminded her of both. So, she enlisted in the army and went to Afghanistan. She kept busy. Excelled. Ensured that her mind was finally free of that past. Then her convoy was hit with an IED. While appearing unscathed on the surface, Lynsey suffered brain damage and trauma to the effect of five different medications to manage the pain and depression. She moved in with a nurse (Jayne Houdyshell‘s Sharon) and needed physical therapy to retrain her body how to walk, drive, and remember. And upon completion, inevitably, there was nowhere else to go but home.
First-time director Lila Neugebauer‘s Causeway (written by Ottessa Moshfegh, Luke Goebel, and Elizabeth Sanders) is thus a return to the place that brought Lynsey so much pain that she decided to go around the world to suffer more elsewhere. It’s about her confronting the reality that her decision to join the military was as much about her running away as it was escaping. Maybe she doesn’t understand this yet and maybe the film is constructed in such a way that we don’t know it at the start either, but the fight or flight anxiety is so strong that she’s willing to lie to her doctor (Stephen McKinley Henderson‘s Dr. Lucas) to get redeployed despite the damage doing so will obviously cause—trading one bout of PTSD with another.
It therefore means something to make a friend while she’s biding her time. She’s found a part-time job cleaning pools to keep busy and running early in the morning has helped her avoid having to talk too long with her mother the little bit she’s home without her new boyfriend (who Lynsey refuses to meet) in tow, but James (Brian Tyree Henry) provides an outside perspective. Not only can she just hang out with him without having the burden of a tainted history, but the two have a unique understanding of each other’s pain too. He lost his leg in a car accident that took the life of someone close to him and he lives with the guilt every day. He’s also rehabilitating both his body and mind.
The difference, reductively stated or not, is that he didn’t leave. James stayed to endure the pain. To own it. He could have run away or escaped like Lynsey, but he’d rather remember instead. That’s not to say that she’s wrong for having done it or for wanting to do it again. Everyone is different. Circumstances hold nuance and the reasons she’s without her brother aren’t the same as those that have left James alone. As such, just because he didn’t physically leave then doesn’t mean he won’t figuratively “leave” now. Both are desperate for friendship and unable to recognize that their pursuit of it risks going beyond just camaraderie. At a certain point they become surrogates for what they’ve lost—a disservice to both memory and potential.
There’s not much to Causeway on paper as a result. Two broken souls trying to mend that which they didn’t think they could (or believed they had by conflating it with the physical ailments they had also suffered). They avoid their demons by filling their respective dark voids with each other’s presence before ultimately discovering that they are relying upon each other too much. A breaking point is on the horizon, details they’ve each left out (subconsciously or not) rise to the surface, and their unavoidable, climactic moment of lashing out will quickly reveal itself to be motivated by self-loathing. They become mirrors onto their own pain—a hurt that both have neglected to fully embrace and combat so that they might actually one day heal for real.
The film is thus a series of quiet, introspective scenes marked by the odd outburst of emotion. It’s overflowing with stubbornness and avoidance in the hopes of eventually finding the catharsis its characters need to accept their fate. And a large part of the success of this endgame lies in the details of Lynsey and James’ trauma. When they’re lying to each other, they are lying to us insofar as allowing a false equivalence to be born. It’s only when the truth comes out that they (and we) see how much of their identities have been built upon self-pity and anger instead of heartache and regret. The script’s dialogue demands that we make unfounded assumptions. It allows Lynsey and James to deceive each other by unconsciously deceiving themselves.
Causeway possesses a powerful display of recognition despite that seemingly barebones plot. Through Lawrence’s excellent work in this return to her indie roots (consciously spearheaded by herself as a producer) and Henry’s scene-stealing support, we can see their characters’ long road ahead. By watching them gradually lift their defenses to the point of pushing each other away, we witness the deep-seated despair that had always been languishing beneath the thin layer of hope they so quickly latched onto as a means of pretending they were already okay. For too long they’ve ignored their hardship by seeking to forget. So, it destroys them the second their vulnerability with each other allows it to flood back. They can subsequently run away from it (again). Or finally choose to recover, together.
 Jennifer Lawrence in “Causeway,” premiering November 4, 2022 on Apple TV+.
 Brian Tyree Henry and Jennifer Lawrence in “Causeway,” premiering November 4, 2022 on Apple TV+.
 Brian Tyree Henry in “Causeway,” premiering November 4, 2022 on Apple TV+.