The Good Son is a 1993 American psychological thriller film directed by Joseph Ruben and written by English novelist Ian McEwan. The film stars Macaulay Culkin and Elijah Wood.
| Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about|
the entire movie.
Mark Evans (Elijah Wood) has recently experienced the death of his mother, Janice (Ashley Crow). Having been assigned for a business trip out of the country, Mark is taken by his father, Jack (David Morse), to stay with his uncle Wallace (Daniel Hugh Kelly) and aunt Susan (Wendy Crewson) in Maine.
Mark is re-introduced to his extended family, including his cousins Connie (Quinn Kay Culkin) and Henry (Macaulay Culkin). Mark and Henry get along at first, and Henry seems to be nice and well-mannered. In discussing the death of Mark's mother and that of Henry's baby brother Richard, however, Henry expresses an abnormal fascination with death, making Mark uneasy.
Henry continues to display increasingly sociopathic behavior, which Mark is unable to tell Wallace and Susan about due to Henry's dark threats. Later, Henry insinuates he will try to kill his sister. Terrified that something might happen to Connie, Mark spends the night in her room. The next morning, Mark awakens to find Henry has taken Connie ice skating.
At the pond, Henry purposely throws his sister toward thin ice. The ice collapses and Connie nearly drowns before she is rescued and taken to the hospital. Susan becomes suspicious of Henry when he visits Connie's room, planning to smother her, but Susan (who has been sitting in the dark out of view) interrupts him.
Susan finds a rubber duck Henry has hidden; it had once belonged to Richard and was with him in the bathtub the night he drowned after which it went missing. When Susan confronts Henry, he coldly reminds her the toy had belonged to him before it had been Richard's and asks for it back.
Susan refuses and Henry tries to take it from her. After a violent tug-of-war, Henry takes the toy and escapes to the cemetery where he throws it down a well, indicating that Richard meant nothing to him.
As Susan and Mark grow closer, Henry insinuates he will kill Susan rather than let Mark continue to develop a relationship with her. When a struggle breaks out between the two boys, Wallace locks Mark in the den. Henry asks a suspicious Susan to go for a walk with him while Mark escapes the den and chases after them.
Susan firmly asks if Henry killed his brother. Henry indirectly replies, "What if I did?" Horrified by what her son has become, Susan tells Henry that he needs help, but Henry flees into the woods. Susan gives chase, and upon arriving at a cliff, Henry shoves her over the edge.
As Susan dangles precariously, Henry picks up a large rock he intends to throw down at her, but Mark intervenes and tackles his cousin, and they fight while Susan climbs back up. In the ensuing brawl, the boys roll off the cliff, but they are caught by Susan. She arduously hangs onto both boys, each with one hand. Henry holds on with both hands, but Mark's one-handed grip begins to slip.
With only enough strength to save one of them, Susan notes her disturbed son's icy-calm demeanor, confident that his mother will save him. However, Susan, now aware of her son's deeply evil nature, allows Henry to slip from her grasp and he falls to his death. Susan pulls Mark up from the ledge and they look down upon Henry's corpse on the rocks below, before it is washed away into the sea. Susan and Mark share an emotional embrace.
When Mark returns to Arizona, he reflects upon Susan's choice to save him instead of Henry and wonders if she would make the same choice again, but knows it is something he will never ask her.
- Macaulay Culkin as Henry Evans. Adept at appearing normal, Henry is in fact a violent sociopath, willing to kill anyone he dislikes or who learns the truth about him killing his little brother Richard out of jealousy.
- Elijah Wood as Mark Evans. The death of his mother and his father going on a business trip in Tokyo, Japan is what causes him to be left with his relatives in Maine. He is also the first to learn the truth about Henry.
- Wendy Crewson as Susan Evans, Henry's mother and Mark's aunt. She is initially unwilling to believe the truth about her son.
- David Morse as Jack Evans, Mark's father.
- Daniel Hugh Kelly as Wallace Evans, Henry's father and Jack's brother.
- Jacqueline Brookes as Alice Davenport, a therapist.
- Quinn Kay Culkin as Connie Evans, Henry's sister whom he despises out of jealousy.
- Ashley Crow as Janice Evans, Mark's mother whose death starts a chain of events.
The film received a mostly negative response from critics, with a 24% overall score on Rotten Tomatoes. Roger Ebert, who deemed the film inappropriate for children, awarded it just half a star, calling the project a "creepy, unpleasant experience". He and Gene Siskel later gave it "Two Thumbs Down":
While the film itself was generally panned by critics, Elijah Wood and Macaulay Culkin's performances were nominated for awards. Wood won Saturn Award for Best Performance by a Young Actor, while Culkin was nominated for an MTV Movie Award for Best Villain.
Box office Edit
The Good Son earned US$44,789,789 at the North American box office revenues, and another $15,823,219 in other territories, for a total worldwide box office take of $60,613,008.
Following the completion of his novel The Child in Time, English novelist Ian McEwan was invited by 20th Century Fox to write a screenplay "about evil - possible concerning children." McEwan recalled, "The idea was to make a low budget, high class movie, not something that Fox would naturally make a lot of money on."
Despite being well received, the end result was deemed insufficiently commercial by the parties that commissioned it, and it floated around Hollywood until being discovered by independent producer Mary Ann Page. Enthusiastic about the script, originally sent to her as a writing sample, Page tried to get the project off the ground for three and a half years. The film was briefly set up at Universal Studios, during which Brian Gilbert was attached as director, but it collapsed thereafter.
Following the successes of Home Alone and Silence of the Lambs, which respectively demonstrated the appeal of both a movie about kids and of an "extreme thriller," Fox itself chose to revisit the project, which they now saw as viable. Director Michael Lehmann (Heathers) became attached, Laurence Mark was appointed as a co-producer, and McEwan was called in for rewrites. Mary Steenburgen was cast as the mother with two unknowns (including Jesse Bradford as the bad seed) starring as the boys. McEwan was optimistic about the project and by November 1991, sets were being built in Maine for a production that would cost approximately $12 million.
This progress was suddenly interrupted when Kit Culkin, Macaulay Culkin's father and manager, at the time a notoriously influential force in Hollywood due to the child's stardom, wanted his son to star in the film. Wishing to prove Macaulay's capacity in a dark role, he made his part in the The Good Son a condition for his appearing in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. Fox agreed enthusiastically due to Culkin's bankability. As the movie was originally scheduled to shoot at the same time as Home Alone 2, the start date for The Good Son was pushed back for a year, making Steenburgen no longer available but enabling Elijah Wood's involvement.
Director Lehmann and producer Mark conflicted with the imposition, leading both to leave the project. The demanding Culkin would go on to insist that his daughter Quinn receive a role in the film and vetted replacement director Joseph Ruben (Sleeping with the Enemy). Furthermore, the budget had risen to an estimated $20 million.
McEwan found himself performing further rewrites that continued to simplify the story to satisfy Ruben's comparatively mainstream tastes, and was ultimately unceremoniously removed from the project altogether when another screenwriter was commissioned. Despite this, McEwan was awarded sole writing credit in arbitration when he contested a shared credit.
A tie-in novel was published alongside the movie's release in 1993, written by Todd Strasser. The novel elaborates on the movie, detailing how Henry was born a sociopath, rather than being some personification of evil.
In the novel, Henry's mother Susan eventually discovers that Henry is unable to understand emotions like love and sorrow, and that pleasure derived from selfish actions and the torment of others are the few things he truly feels. The book also concludes differently from the movie, ending with Mark returning to Uncle Wallace's home in Maine one year later. Mark and Susan visit Henry's grave, which includes an epitaph: "Without Darkness There Can be No Light".
Also in the novelization, Wallace and Susan's date is cut short because Susan gets a feeling something is wrong at the house.