In Idle Days, writer Thomas Desaulniers Brousseau and artist Simon Leclerc traverse the connection between personal psychological distress and the ghostly sins of the past, in a backdrop of world-shattering dread that, in many ways, mirror what too many people are probably feeling these days — or at least, believe we are on the brink of being engulfed by, a triangulated descent into madness.
World War II is raging and the world seems destined to catch fire and burn itself into oblivion, but Jerome sits at a distance, at his grandfather’s homestead in the woods in Canada, listening to radio reports of war efforts that border on propaganda. The heightened emotion of the broadcast missives both make Jerome feel like he’s missing out on something, but also create a psychological wedge between him and the outside world.
Jerome is a deserter, aided by his grandfather and mother, and charged with staying hidden for the duration of the war. But the duration is unknowable and so for Jerome it feels like he’s been condemned to an eternity. He’s been helping his grandfather renovate the old house, particularly the attic that hasn’t been touched since a fire broke out some years before, which serves as tan indicator of a tragedy that followed for the former owners.
Jerome focuses on that tragedy, a suicide that happened, as well as his own — his father’s death. These begin to manifest with intense visions that play on Jerome’s instability and are accompanied by complex realizations of the soldiers in the war that Jerome is sitting out. It’s all mixed with the landscape he currently inhabits, and this settles like a bomb in his mind.
Jerome pokes around crumbled relics and pushes Mathilde, who visits him occasionally and who he obviously is in love with, to further his investigation of the property’s dark past, perhaps as a way to avoid his own troubles, or perhaps because they accentuate the darkness of them. He wanders into town against the wishes of his mother, who’s scolding concern pierces him as if he is being stabbed by the past, causing his current wounds to feel unattended, and so they worsen.
All the burdens that weigh on Jerome, every bit of darkness that swirls around his brain, they all conspire to create a nihilism about the war that may well be sober, even strangely sensible, but also tainted by his personal darkness, and surely leading nowhere good at all.
Despite taking place in a rural area, Leclerc renders the space around Jerome in dark, brooding, claustrophobic terms, making the forest seem as constricting as the areas of the old house that Jerome and his grandfather work in. And the darkness that infects all the scenery hints at the unknown lurking out there, perhaps mere feet from where the characters stand. Something is just beyond their touch, hardly tangible and not even necessarily desired, but certainly needed. The darkness also mirrors the state of the world, which is in apocalyptic mode. As all of existence threatens to burn to a crisp, the atmosphere around Jerome becomes as overshadowed as the mood of the earth itself.
Brousseau matches this mood with his alternating story modes. At one moment, this is a stripped down family drama, but one that moves between angry, desperate dialogue and prolonged silences that elicit discomfort. Brousseau will then move into poetry that captures the more abstract aspects of the drama and its brooding, dream-like sequences, and then exposition, often in the form of secrets of the past being communicated in terms of legends.
In this way, Idle Days takes the swirl of reality that contains the personal, the local, the international, the historical, and the psychological and creates its own reality that allows us to see how each of these things knock against each other, causing jolts as we seek equilibrium.