Mystic River is a 2003 film directed by Clint Eastwood. Although separate analysts argue that the film is superfluous and excessively yet incoherently overvalued, Mystic River received extensively positive critical response. The film is widely acclaimed for its intensive and profound insight on such acute social issues as ambiguous problems of morality, violence, despair, child abuse and overall ethical crisis of social environment. Being an ecranization of a novel by Dennis Lehane, the film Mystic River was intently planned and designed to reflect the Boston working class reality through the framework of devastating personal and social tragedy. Moreover, in order to contribute to the magnitude and significance of this tragedy, its origins trace back to the supposedly innocent and mirthful boyhood of the three major protagonists.
The film is set in a fictional neighborhood in Boston and depicts a typical working class community. However, the view of this community presented by Eastwood is exceedingly pessimistic and grim. He concentrates on the damaged morality and defective potential of this environment, evoking in the audience dubious feelings of regret, remorse, compassion, sympathy and repulsion. This can be precisely illustrated by the key scene at the beginning of the film, where two pedophiles, pretending to be a policeman and a priest, abduct and rape a humble little boy, Dave Boyle. Thus, from the very beginning of a film, Eastwood clearly declares a piercing issue of child sexual abuse, pedophilia and violence. Consequently, Dave Boyle will carry this painful childhood trauma through all his life and will suffer from the understanding of his own incapability of overcoming it.
Another central event of Eastwood’s film is the murder of Jim Markum’s beloved 19-year-old daughter, Katie. It reunited the three childhood friends and became the culmination of the plot of the film. Markum appears to be desperate for revenge and skeptical about the actions of police officers and their ability to discover the truth. Being much rather predisposed to self-justice, he launches an investigation of his own and eventually injudiciously executes the wrong man, who turns out to be his psychologically unstable friend Dave Boyle. Markum is superficial in his conclusions and draws them from circumstantial facts. His behavior is criminal and aggressive and his actions are driven by a sheer desire for revenge. Markum’s character is very intense and controversial. His deep and sincere father’s grief evokes feelings of compassion and sympathy. Throughout the film, viewers find themselves trying to justify and even support his actions. However, by the end of the film, the stagnant limitation of Markum’s faulty mind becomes obvious to the viewers. Regardless, his personage does not suddenly appear negative. In the end of the film, his wife Annabeth remains confident in her husband and justifies his actions in her final speech by saying that he is the king with a big loving heart, ready to do everything for the sake of the people he loves. She is certain that her husband is an absolute authority in the town and that he is always right and never weak. This enthusiastic and idealized speech is highly ironic and has a strong latent connotation. It reflects the people’s subconscious instinct to follow a leader of the herd. And the more aggressive the leader, the stronger his authority is. Markum is a typical informal leader of a typical constrained working class community, and his savage instincts are evident in his intense character.
One of the central themes that drives and motivates the main characters of the Mystic River is their superstitiousness. The film cultivates the presence and impact of mythological Fate on human lives. Thus, Markum is plagued by the possibility that he could have contributed to Katie’s death. Devine also appears to share this belief, taking into consideration the manner in which he is going to inform Markum of the tragedy. He considers saying the following: “Hey guess what, Jimmy? God said you owed another marker. He came to collect.” According to the film’s logic, Markum and Divine prove to be correct in their feelings of partial responsibility for both the murder of Markum’s daughter and difficult condition of their friend Boyle. They are haunted by the feeling of guilt for not being on his place. They understand that it was a mere coincidence, that they could have been the ones who were taken away and assaulted and this event could have absolutely changed their lives.
Throughout the film, the audience remains tense and suspicious. This atmosphere is cultivated both through the intensity of characters, acuteness of the film’s central themes and the manner in which they resonate with the real life. Of course, one is obliged to note that the juridical and physic reality, filled with sadistic violence, crime and suffering to the extent which is portrayed in Eastwood’s film is a concentrated film plot rather than a faithful reproduction of real life. In other words, the film relies on a statistical exception rather than on a social rule. The source of the prevailing social anxiety depicted in the film lays in a sense of collective guilt for the crimes, committed in past. Those are crimes of revenge, lust and greed and are to be compensated by the commission of new crimes. This tragic circle forms the core moral message of the film and delivers the idea that all people have guilty conscience and sooner or later, they will all have to pay for their sins.
Mystic River was filmed in a slow editing style concentrating on two-shots and close-up shots. This allowed Eastwood’s characters to be scrutinized by the viewers. The characters analyze, explore and reveal their most intimate thoughts, fears and sensations. They encounter austere personal tragedies and moral conflicts and strive to confront them. The performances of an accomplished film cast starring Sean Penn, Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon reveal an intense depth and rawness.
Mystic River is recognized as a spiritually profound film dealing with mentally agonizing horrors of people’s lives. It portrays the acute state of social crisis through the framework of threatening, malignant and potentially explosive conditions of urban social reality. Revolving around an act committed by vicious homosexual predators, the film appears to reveal the grimmest and pessimistic assumptions about the life of American working class. However, its expressive and complex concealed connotations present a much more significant and sententious subject for further analysis and evaluation.