I’m going to be very blunt: Digging for Fire is a really, really dumb movie. Like, really dumb. Its entire thematic premise is based around a tired cliché that doesn’t even believably work within the film’s narrative. Its characters are shallow archetypal representations that serve to make a point that not only is much too obvious to be thought-provoking, but is actually even morally unethical to put into practice.
Married couple Tim and Lee are housesitting for Lee’s client when Tim discovers a gun and what seems to be a human bone buried in the hill adjacent to the house. The police seem (inexplicably) disinterested in this discovery, so Tim wants to dig around and see if he can find more bones. Lee disagrees and wants to leave it buried. Lee then leaves to visit with her parents and some friends, leaving Tim alone at the house. Tim invites some friends over, and both Tim and Lee find their way into flirtatious entanglements with members of the opposite sex.
Let’s disregard the fact that Tim’s clearly calm demeanor towards potentially discovering a body is more than a little absurd. The buried body metaphor is very obviously a skeleton in the closet, a secret that perhaps shouldn’t be unearthed. Tim eventually decides to leave the body buried and with it buries the clothes he wore to try and impress the girl he liked. By extension, Tim and Lee’s respective extra-marital romantic encounters (neither of which culminated in sex, by the way) should be buried so as not to harm their marriage. This is a horrible message. Since when is dishonesty a proper way to manage marital conflict? The fact that this film portrays such behavior as okay makes me question the relationship ethics of everyone involved in this project, and by extension the relationship ethics of society as a whole. I sincerely hope that I’m not alone in thinking this is messed up.
But even if we were to take the moral at face value and dismiss the hackneyed metaphorical mechanism for its delivery, the film doesn’t even work on its own terms, particularly because it never gives us any reason to be invested in Tim and Lee’s relationship. They share a few opening scenes together, just enough to establish that they are married, their relationship has some tension, but they are in love and share a young child together. However, this simply isn’t enough for us to care about them as people or for us to root for them to stick together. They’re both clearly tired and stressed out, and I think that is meant to make us sympathetic to how close they come to non-consensual adultery, but with that as their sole defining character traits, it’s hard to care about anything they do that would affect their so-called “relationship.”
Last year I reviewed another film by director Joe Swanberg (Happy Christmas) which I gave a lot of slack for its improvisational tone. However, it seems that even with a script that Swanberg can’t deliver. Between the shallow writing, clichéd execution, unlikeable characters, and completely backwards notion of what constitutes a healthy relationship, Digging for Fire is one of the unethical films of the year. Don’t lie to your partners, people. Even if you think that you’re protecting your relationship, that isn’t fair to your partner, and they deserve to have a relationship that isn’t built on lies. And don’t look to Joe Swanberg for marriage counseling.