Literature / Mystic River

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"We bury our sins here, Dave. We wash them clean."
Jimmy Markum

A 2001 novel by Dennis Lehane, Mystic River was brought to the screen in 2003 by director Clint Eastwood. The film version starred Sean Penn and Tim Robbins, who both won Oscars for their roles, and Kevin Bacon and Laurence Fishburne.

Years ago, Dave Boyle escaped with his life from mysterious men in Boston. In present day Boston, he is reunited with his childhood friends, Jimmy Markum and Sean Devine when the former's eldest daughter is found dead in a ditch. Sean, now a detective, and Jimmy, an ex-convict, both vow to find the killer themselves. Unfortunately, Dave, who came home to his wife all bloody the night of the murder, is their prime suspect...

This work features examples of:

  • Adaptation Name Change: Jimmy's surname is changed from "Marcus" in the book to "Markum" in the film.
  • Being Tortured Makes You Evil: the film plays with the idea that Dave killed Jimmy's daughter because of the four days he spent with the predators as a child broke him.
    • Dave himself is fixated on the idea that he is becoming a monster ( he uses the metaphor of becoming a werewolf or a vampire, with the implication being that he's scared of becoming a paedophile or a murderer). At the end of the film, it is revealed that he killed a child molester the night of Jimmy's daughter's death, and had been clumsily trying to communicate this information to his wife.
  • Beleaguered Childhood Friend: Dave is this to Sean.
  • Birth/Death Juxtaposition: Jimmy's oldest daughter is murdered the day of his youngest daughter's first Communion
  • Boston: A somewhat fictionalized version of the city provides the setting. "East Buckingham" doesn't actually exist, since it's in the location of the real life Somerville but is ethnically and culturally more like South Boston, which is on the other side of the city.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: The storyline hinges on one of the main characters being abducted as a child, and how this event impacted their adult lives.
  • Deadly Prank: Katie was killed as a result of one.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: When Jimmy's two hired thugs take Dave to the bar, he sits in the back seat, staring out of the back window. It's an almost shot-for-shot of the earlier scene, where Dave is abducted by the child predators. The implication is that Dave cannot escape the trauma of his past.
  • Dying Alone: Jimmy murdered a former associate, "Just Ray" Harris, not merely for ratting on him, but because in doing so, he put Jimmy in prison just as his first wife was dying of skin cancer.
  • Face Framed in Shadow: Dave's face is half covered in shadow when he is being interrogated by Jimmy.
  • Film of the Book
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Sean is choleric, Jimmy is melancholic and Dave is phlegmatic.
  • He's Back: Jimmy makes this decision at the end of the story, coming out of his retirement to seize control of Boston's criminal underworld.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Sean and Whitey. Laurence Fishburne even said in an interview "This is a film about three men and their wives - I play Kevin Bacon's wife."
    • The two brothers that Jimmy hires to commit crimes are also uncommonly close to one another.
  • Hollywood New England: Well, it is set in Bahstahn, yah?
  • Karma Houdini: Jimmy murdered "Just Ray" Harris and got off by agreeing to pay his family a monthly sum of $500. Later, he kills Dave and also gets off scott-free. Although...
  • Lady Macbeth: Jimmy's wife Annabeth, after he murders Dave. May not be a coincidence considering her name is Annabeth.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: One of the real killers turns out to be the youngest son of "Just Ray" Harris himself.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: One of the police officers recounts a story about a guy who walked into the emergency room with a knife sticking out of his shoulder and asked the nurse where the Coke machine was.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: The Irish Jimmy marrying his first wife, who was Puerto Rican, is mentioned as having been controversial at the time, but this stigma doesn't appear to have been passed to Katie, their daughter.
  • Nakama : Sean, Jimmy and Dave were extremely close as children, right up until Dave's abduction.
  • Old Friend: Sean has not seen Jimmy or Dave for a long time, but there's obviously still a close emotional connection between the three characters.
  • Parental Abandonment: the motivation for the killing/ fatal gun accident was that one of the killers' father had disappeared (was murdered) when he was young, and his older brother - who seems to have acted as a parental surrogate - was planning to run off with Jimmy's daughter. The killer had been planning to scare her into leaving without the killer's brother .
  • Police Procedural: Although with a bit more focus on the characters' personal lives than most.
  • Race Lift: Sgt. Powers, played by Laurence Fishburne in the movie, was white in the book. For extra irony, the character's name is Whitey Powers, which Dennis Lehane admits was an Incredibly Lame Pun that became even funnier when Fishburne was cast.
  • Ray of Hope Ending: Sure, they catch the killer, but it's just a kid after a prank went wrong, and Jimmy kills Dave because he thinks he did it and he gets away with it. But Sean swears to himself that he will make him answer for his crime and finds something good to feel in his newborn daughter. There's still plenty of conflict between these two.
  • Red Herring: Dave's bloody clothes on the night of Katie's murder which turn out to be the result of his having killed a child molester.
    • In the novel, Dave is afraid that he's turning into a child molester himself, though Jimmy and his friends never learn this.
  • Retired Outlaw: Jimmy Marcus, by the time of the novel's present day.
  • The Reveal: Katie was killed not by any of the suspects the police consider, but as the result of a Deadly Prank.
  • Schrödinger's Butterfly: It's suggested at the end of the film that all three boys have dreamed the whole thing, and that they're still being molested. This comes from a thought of one of the characters in the book, but was never seriously entertained.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": Jimmy's surname is Marcus in the novel and Markum in the film.
  • Southies: All the major characters, with the exception of Sgt. Powers.
  • Stupidest Thing I've Ever Heard: Sean's reaction to his partner Whitey's theory that Dave killed Katie. Turns out Sean's right, and while Dave did kill someone, it wasn't Katie.
  • Survivor Guilt: Word of God is this is the main theme of the book, mainly from Sean and Jimmy about Dave's fate, and Sean because he managed to get out of the neighborhood.
    • Jimmy comments later in the film that (he feels like) they are all still locked in the car, and Sean and Jimmy reflect on what would have happened if they'd gotten in the car.
    • Sean is very protective of Dave early in the film, which is implied to be due to his sense of survivor guilt.
  • There Are No Therapists: Given that the police and child services knew what happened to Dave, he would almost certainly have spent a lot of time in therapy as a child. Given this, it's surprising how he doesn't seem familiar with any post-trauma coping skills and can't articulate what is happening to him more clearly.
  • The Stoic: Everybody. This is a Clint Eastwood film, after all.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Dave could have saved his own life by offering to show Jimmy the body of the child molester he killed, to verify his story. Subverted and justified, in that Dave was more afraid of the part of himself that drove him to kill the child molester than he was of Jimmy killing him.
    • Subverted and justified throughout the film, really. Dave continuously acts in bizarre and suspicious ways, with the implication being that the events on the night of the murder made his pre-existing trauma issues worse, and also that the intense shame and isolation he feels as a former victim of child abuse means he struggles to communicate with others or take care of his emotional needs.
  • Unable to Cry: Lampshaded:
    Jimmy: "My own little daughter and I can't even cry for her."
    Dave: "Jimmy, you're crying now."
    • There's also Dave, who clearly wants/needs to cry in certain scenes (particularly the scene where he accuses his wife of thinking he was the murderer), but displays blunted emotions and so comes across as a sociopath. Its also an example of Shown Their Work, because people with trauma issues often can't cry even when they want to, and will also tend to dissociate or become alexithymic in the presence of a stressor, which can seem creepy to people who aren't familiar with how trauma works.
    • Used to Be a Sweet Kid: None of the main characters are evil, per se, but there's a marked contrast between the sweet, trusting eight-year-olds you see at the beginning of the film and the hardened, dysfunctional adults they grow into, particularly the clearly troubled Dave and the crime boss Jimmy.
  • You Said You Would Let Them Go: Jimmy and his thugs, suspecting Dave is the killer, rough him up and threaten to kill him unless he confesses to the deed. Dave lies to save himself, but Jimmy kills him anyway.
    Dave: "I wasn't ready."


http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/MysticRiver?from=Film.MysticRiver