Michael and I just watched the 2010 drama "Beautiful Boy," about a young man who inexplicably opens fire on his college campus, killing several students and professors before shooting himself. Instead of focusing on the boy's side of the story, the movie offers a heart-wrenching look at those left behind: most notably, his parents. Already struggling with a stagnating marriage, the couple is absolutely blindsided with the news that their son committed a horrific crime. One of the most moving scenes of the film occurs when the police arrive at the door and Kate (Maria Bello) reacts to the news that her son was the shooter. She screams, "LIAR!" in the placid officer's face as she recoils from his words.
The aftermath of the shooting brings denial, doubt, blame, bitterness -- from all angles. The movie features a motif of through-doorway shots, further emphasizing the precariousness of the relationship: Bill (Michael Sheen) seems to be ready to move forward together with his wife one minute, and ready to leave her the next. Kate has her own vacillation; she prepares the house to be sold yet can't seem to stop searching for clues to her son's collapse.
A thought-provoking and sobering film for a parent, for sure. How can we ever know what life has in store for us? How could parents such as these well-off suburban professionals have known that their son had a violent tendency? I think we like to tell ourselves that WE would know, WE would see the glaringly obvious signs, but just as I felt stunned by accusations made against a former priest of mine (which are still accusations at this point), the simple fact is that life has the ability to take our knees out with a lead pipe.
What's to be done, then? If a mother nags her child too much, she's criticized for being too demanding. If she remains "laissez faire," then she is criticized for being cold and unfeeling. I think I know the answer lies somewhere in between guidance and independence, but parenting is a gamble made in real time with the highest of stakes. I can only hope that my own children realize I have always done the best I could.
If you like films which leave you contemplating the complexities in life, I recommend "Beautiful Boy" to you. Keep the Kleenex handy.