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Film / Suburbicon

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Suburbicon is a 2017 American crime thriller film directed by George Clooney and written by Clooney, The Coen Brothers, and Grant Heslov. The film stars Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, and Oscar Isaac.

The movie tells the story of an all-white neighborhood of Suburbicon in 1959. While the town is dealing with the racial tensions unleashed by the arrival of the Mayers, the first African American family to move into town, the drama of the Lodge family unfolds in the house around the block and opposite the Mayers’. Two robbers break into the Lodge home, tie the entire family up and kill the matriarch, Rose (Moore), with an overdose of chloroform.

Rose’s twin sister, Margaret (Moore), moves in to help take care of Nicky, the child of the family. Soon after her arrival, she begins to transform herself into Rose, dyeing her hair and having sex with Gardner (Damon, Rose’s widowed husband). As the movie progresses, it becomes clear that there is more to Rose's death than meets the eye, and Nicky finds himself in ever increasing peril, all the while a race riot continues to brew in their back yard.


This film provides examples of:

  • The '50s: The film is set in 1959, amid the backdrop of the idyllic fantasy of suburban America in the 1950s-1960s, with old, fancy cars, beautiful environments, friendly neighbours, pleasant and well kept homes, a thriving community and the happy, mundane life of the average American. The film then proceeds to violently deconstruct this fantasy, showing a more realistic side to a place like Suburbicon, with the casual and almost universal racism of the period on full display, people being generally less friendly with each other than you'd expect, and overall presenting us with a Darker and Edgier version of the '50s American utopia often seen in other media.
    • The film also takes its time to show us how much easier it would have been to pull off such a heinous crime as the one that Gardner and Margaret attempt than it would be today. That is, so long as your contracted murderers don't decide to kill you as well. Basically, the film gives us the idea that such a place as this would never be perfect no matter how much it would appear to be.
  • Alone with the Psycho: At the climax of the movie, Gardner returns home to find that he and Nicky are the only two left alive. He disarms his son and sits him at the kitchen table, then proceeds to tell him what will happen if he doesn't go along with the lie he has planned out. Nicky appears to have no choice but to agree to the terms laid out by his insane father, out of fear that he would murder him like he did his mother. Luckily for him, Gardner ends up dying after consuming a poisoned sandwich.
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  • Big Damn Heroes: Uncle Mitch arrives in the nick of time to save Nicky from being killed by one of the hitmen.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Nicky is safe and all the bad guys are dead, but Nicky is all alone in the world, heroic uncle Mitch is dead and the Mayers will continue to face the hostility of the community.
  • Black Comedy: The film features some darkly and disturbingly hilarious scenes. In fact, you'd probably be forgiven for watching a trailer and thinking that this film doesn't have any seriousness to it at all.
  • Blackmail: Bud Cooper, the insurance investigator, asks Gardner to give him all of the insurance money or he will blow the whistle on him killing Rose.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Several, including the can of lye and the drug-loaded sandwich. Subverted with the actual gun that Mitch gives Nicky to defend himself with; he's easily disarmed by Gardner, but by that point the gun had already been fired twice by Mitch anyway.
  • Crapsaccharine World: Suburbicon is introduced as an idyllic embodiment of The American Dream but this is quickly revealed to be a very thin veneer hiding virulent racism and criminality among the supposedly upstanding citizens of the suburb.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The film is set in a time period when overt racism was considered perfectly acceptable.
  • Dramatic Irony: After everyone except Nicky and Gardner are dead, Gardner sits his son down and threatens to shoot him unless he goes along with his cover story, eating a sandwich that just happened to be on the table at the time. Neither he nor Nicky know that this is the same sandwich that Margaret had earlier loaded with pills in an attempt to kill the latter. Naturally, Gardner is dead by the next morning.
    • Earlier on, after Mitch had shot one of the hitmen and is bleeding out from being stabbed in the back, he attempts to phone the police from Nicky's room, unaware that Margaret had earlier cut the line.
  • Entertainingly Wrong: Police Chief Hightower suspects that Rose was murdered because Gardner owed money to the Mob, which is a completely reasonable conclusion to make based on the evidence he has. He happens to be wrong because the hitmen worked for Gardner, not the mob.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: At first, Margaret has red hair and her sister Rose, Gardner's wife and Nicky's mother, has blond hair. As Margaret tries to take over Rose's place, her hair changes to blond as well.
  • Feeling Oppressed by Their Existence: The bulk of Suburbicon's residents, who consider the Mayers' very presence in town as an unforgivable affront and an attack on their rights.
  • Faking and Entering: Rose's murder is made to look like an accidental overdose while a couple of robbers were sedating the family to rob them.
  • Film Noir: The film is an unusual take on the genre in that the child Nicky is the closest thing to a detective that the story has.
  • Foreshadowing: As Gardner is driving to dispose of Cooper's body, he gets distracted at the wheel and is almost sideswiped by a passing fire truck. The hitman that attempts to threaten him while driving isn't so lucky.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Doubles as Mutual Kill. Uncle Mitch is fatally wounded while saving his nephew from a hitman.
  • Hope Spot: Due to Gardner and Margaret being a pair of Stupid Crooks, claims agent Bud Cooper needs only five minutes to see through the lies and figure out their entire plan. For a moment it appears as if the Lodges have been caught and will be dealt swift justice. Except Cooper turns out to be quite corrupt, and instead opts to blackmail them for the money. This only ends with him being murdered as well.
    • When Nicky calls Mitch and tells him he's in danger, he immediately grabs a gun and heads on over to the house. After Mitch successfully kills Louis, it looks as though Mitch will call the police and save his nephew. Unfortunately, he's been fatally stabbed, and Margaret had previously disconnected the line to the phone that he tries using. Mitch bleeds out before he can get to a different phone.
  • Kill 'Em All: By the end of the film, every major character except Nicky, Hightower and the Mayers are dead.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Gardner. His own son begins to suspect that his father had Rose killed after he sees him deliberately fail to identify her murderers. Later, he tries to manipulate Nicky into believing that he didn't see the men who killed his mother, and the gaslighting only continues from there. Subverted in that Gardner isn't nearly as patient or clever enough for his bullshit to actually work, underestimating his son's intelligence. He eventually drops the facade near the end when Nicky outright accuses him of killing his mother, and tries forcing his son to go along with it under threat of death.
  • Mutual Kill: As seen above under Heroic Sacrifice, Uncle Mitch manages to kill one of the hitmen trying to murder Nicky, but is himself fatally stabbed in the back, dying soon after while trying to phone the police.
  • Nice Guy: Uncle Mitch is shown to be a jovial and friendly man, who loves his nephew as if he were his own son. The moment he learns Nicky's life is in danger, he rushes over to the house with a loaded handgun. Despite killing one of the hitmen, he's fatally stabbed in the back, and his final act is to ensure his nephew is safe and reassured before he bleeds out while attempting to phone the police.
  • Not Now, Kiddo: Nicky recognizes the robbers at the police line-up and tries to tell his dad, but Gardner ignores him on the grounds that he's a grown-up and simply knows better than him. Subverted, of course, as it turns out he arranged Rose's murder and is trying to cover it up.
  • Offing the Offspring: Gardner threatens to kill Nicky, his own son, if he doesn't go along with his lies and keep his mouth shut about what really happened. Fortunately for Nicky, Gardner unwittingly eats a poisoned sandwich and dies before dawn.
    • Said sandwich was actually made by Margaret, Nicky's aunt, who during her Villainous Breakdown, makes the sandwich for Nicky in a panicky attempt to get rid of him.
  • Oh, Crap!: Several throughout the movie.
    • The mailman when he realises that a black family has moved into the all-white community.
    • Nicky after seeing his mother's killers in the police lineup, and that his aunt and father have deliberately chosen not to identify them.
    • Gardner and Margaret when Nicky finds them in the middle of intercourse in the basement.
    • Margaret after realising that an insurance claims investigator has (quite easily) figured out her and Gardner's Evil Plan.
    • Both Gardner and Bud share one for different reasons after Margaret, in a state of panic, poisons the latter's coffee. Bud because he knows that he's going to die, and Gardner because his death could potentially bring more heat down on them.
    • The viewer themselves may have one when they see the large knife protruding from Uncle Mitch's back.
  • Period Piece: The movie is set in 1959.
  • Police Are Useless: Surprisingly averted considering the setting. Not only do the police do their best to protect the Mayers family from the racist mob outside their house, but it is heavily implied that they would've caught on to what Gardner and Margaret had done if they hadn't been distracted by the budding race riot. Hightower in particular clearly doesn't believe a word the adult Lodges are telling him.
  • Reality Ensues: If you try to carry on an angry conversation with someone through the rolled down passenger window of a car while driving said car there's a very good chance you will get into a nasty car accident.
    • Driving at night with no lights on means other drivers can't see you.
    • Gardner and Margaret's scheme to kill Rose, collect the insurance money, send Nicky away and then elope together is so poorly planned and executed that Bud Cooper, a claims investigator, figures out exactly what they're up to much faster than the actual police do, as it's his job to look for any indiscrepancies in a claim and spot a potential scam. Unfortunately however, he's just as crooked as they are, and instead decides to blackmail them for the entire claim.
  • Red Herring: The Mayers. The film is set up as though the racial tensions surrounding their arrival in town will be the focus of the plot, especially considering the Lodges' home is robbed the night after Nicky is seen playing with the Mayers' son. This quickly takes a backseat once Nicky starts to figure out the real implications behind his mother's death, and ultimately its prime effect on the main plot is to distract the police from properly investigating the matter.
  • A Simple Plan: 1) Kill Rose, 2) collect the insurance, 3) ship Nicky to military school, 4) flee to Aruba. Unsurprisingly since the Coens' are the writers, it goes off the rails before step 2.
  • Stupid Crooks:
    • The two hitmen. To wit, they got into a fight while counting the money they were paid to kill Rose and march into Gardner's office in full view of everyone to threaten him for not paying them the rest of the promised fee. The fact that their day job is being bus drivers may account for this.
    • Gardner and Margaret planned Rose's death so poorly that the police are highly suspicious and Cooper the insurance investigator takes all of ten minutes to figure out the whole thing.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: Margaret puts lye in Cooper's coffee, which would've killed him if Gardner hadn't finished him off with a fire poker. Later she tries to kill Nicky by crushing a large quantity of pills and putting them on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a glass of milk. Ironically, this winds up killing Gardner instead.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Sloan, one of the hitmen, stalks Gardner as he disposes of Cooper's body. On the way back, he confronts Gardner from his car whilst driving at night, with his lights off, not even paying attention to the road. He eventually collides with a fire truck and is killed.
  • Trailers Always Lie: The trailers for the movie made it out to be a quirky dark comedy in the vein of the Coens' previous fare, but the actual movie is considerably darker and less comedic.
  • Wham Shot: When Nicky sneaks into the police lineup to look at the suspects, the camera follows his point of view as the adult Lodges are heard stating that the men who murdered Rose are not amongst them. Finally we see the suspects in the lineup, and it's shown that they actually are there, revealing Gardner and Margaret to be protecting them.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Nicky is on the receiving end of a lot of near misses:
    • The hitmen try to kill Nicky once they figure he has recognized them.
    • Margaret actually tries to kill Nicky with a poisoned sandwich and glass of milk.
    • Gardner threatens to shoot Nicky dead unless he goes along with the cover story he plans to tell the cops.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Margaret becomes more and more unstable as her and Gardner's plan falls apart, leading her to impulsively poison Cooper the insurance investigator and later try and poison Nicky in a desperate attempt to keep him quiet.

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