The parents always know.
Bill (Michael Sheen) and Kate (Maria Bello) are typical middle class parents. They have no clue their son, 18-year-old son Sam (Kyle Gallner), in his first year at college away from home, is morbidly depressed. So when Sam takes a gun – how did he get it? – and does a “Columbine”, they are shocked.
BEAUTFUL BOY is their story.
Remember the 1999 Columbine High School massacre? Two senior students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, killed 12 students and 1 teacher. They also injured 21 other students. They then committed suicide.
Questions and criticism have hung over their parents virtually from the start, but the families have not made any expansive public statements. This massacre took a lot of planning. What did the parents know?
Six months after Columbine, polls showed 85 percent of Americans held the parents responsible for the shooters’ acts.
Dylan was depressed. His parents knew this, though not the extent of it. Dylan’s father worked from home and saw his son every day. Eric was a psychopath. His parents knew he was troubled. He was found making pipe bombs and setting them off for fun. They enrolled him in a program for juvenile offenders run by the county court, he was taken to a psychiatrist and given both therapy and medication.
When we see Sam in his dorm room, we can clearly see Sam is a very troubled teenager. Bill and Kate are blissfully unaware his tone of voice is vacant and creepy. He talks about snowflakes. Kate talks about a family vacation.
With the press camped outside their house, Bill and Kate go to her brother’s house. They have ignored the signs. Their son is a killer. They did not have a clue.
What did Jeffrey Dahmer’s parents know? It’s strange that after his parents bitter divorce in 1978, in July of that year, Jeffrey committed his first murder in the family house. In August, Joyce and her other son Dave, disappeared leaving Jeffrey behind. It took Lionel years to find them. They went into hiding. What frightened Joyce? Lionel then tried everything to get rid of Jeffrey, dumping him with his grandmother. Joyce was angry Lionel blamed her and mad people were calling her “Monster Maker.”
Bill and Kate’s marriage is collapsing. We are not told why. Could it be that Bill is a distant husband and father? Does that make a son a deranged killer?
Their weeks of imposed isolation, having dinner and Bill’s obsessive working out, does not ring true. What kind of nightmare do parents of young killers go through?
Seung-Hui Cho (pictured with gun to his head) was a senior-level undergraduate student at Virginia Polytechnic Institute who killed 32 people and wounded 17 others in 2007 in the shooting rampage. Cho then committed suicide.
A few members of Cho’s family in South Korea had concerns about his behavior during his early childhood. Cho’s relatives thought that he was selectively mute or mentally ill.
[What the hell is “selective mutism”? One symptom of schizophrenia is what is known as "poverty of speech," referring to a marked deficit in the amount of talking in which the person engages.]
Professor Nikki Giovanni, who taught Cho in a poetry class, insisted that he be removed from her class in 2005. Giovanni offered that “[she] was willing to resign before [she] would continue with him.” There were no “signs” about Cho, there were “billboards” littering the campus. His parents had gotten rid of him – they were safe.
The film takes a sharp, dramatic turn when Bill and Kate, in a motel room, start blaming each other. Finally, their rage explodes. It is a memorable scene. Bill acknowledges he raised a killer; Kate makes excuses for their son’s behavior. They get drunk, play cards, and then make love.
Exactly what Eric Harris’s parents did.
The confrontation between Bill and Kate is the climax of the film – we want to see them suffer. We want to see them accuse each other of creating a killer.
Writer-director Shawn Ku, working with a small budget, to his credit has made an impressive film with two stars who make an emotional commitment to the story. Bello has the tougher role. You expect the father to be the stronger of the two. You expect the mother to grieve for the loss of her son.
On a personal note, if my son had done something like that when he was a teenager, (he never did anything wrong) I would have taken the blame. Like Casey Anthony’s parents, I would have done the appropriate thing and fallen on my sword.
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Member of the Las Vegas Film Critics Society: www.lvfcs.org/
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Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email. You can contact Victoria directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.