Brenner: Well, possible motives for murder are profit, revenge, jealousy, to conceal a crime, to avoid humiliation and disgrace, or plain old homicidal mania. Right there in the manual.note
The General's Daughter is a 1999 mystery thriller film, directed by Simon West. It was loosely based on a 1992 novel of the same name by Nelson De Mille.
The titular character is Captain Elizabeth Campbell (Leslie Stefanson), a specialist in psychological operations. She is the daughter of Lieutenant General Joseph Campbell (James Cromwell), an ambitious man with political aspirations. Father and daughter serve in a Georgia Army Base. Early in the film, Campbell's nude body is found staked down with tent poles, strangled, and presumably raped. Warrant officers Paul Brenner (John Travolta) and Sara Sunhill (Madeline Stowe) are called in to investigate.
The investigators soon find out that they have multiple suspects. Campbell was having affairs with most officers on base. The rape, and the identity of the rapist no longer seems clear. She was into BDSM and maintained her own sexual dungeon. But looking into their murder victim's background, they discover another mystery.
Elisabeth used to be a honor student at West Point and considered a prodigy. Then in her sophomore year, her grades slipped. She had barely graduated and seemed to be a much different person after graduation. The big reveal of the film was the reason for it.
The film was a moderate box office hit but a critical failure. Its political views are rather ambiguous, as the plot was less about politics and more about duty and integrity, and what happens when they are not upheld.
This film depends on several significant plot twists, so beware of spoilers.
This page is about the film. For the trope, see The General's Daughter.
This film provides examples of:
- Adaptation Expansion: Several plot elements in the film were not present in the original novel:
- Brenner having met Captain Campbell before her murder.
- Colonel Moore being secretly gay, as well as his subsequent suicide.
- Brenner and Sunhill managing to solve the West Point rape.
- Lieutenant Elby never attacks Brenner in the book. He also never slept with Elizabeth. He was just someone the general tried to setup his daughter with, but after she died, he ends up being posted to Guam.
- In the book, the guy Brenner is investigating isn't trying to sell weapons to some Right-Wing Militia Fanatic, but to some group claiming to want to liberate Cuba. Said militia also never comes gunning for Brenner, so there is no fight in the beginning.
- Adaptation Name Change: In the novel, Capt. Campbell's first name is Ann rather than Elizabeth. Similarly, Brenner's partner is named Cynthia in the novel, not Sara.
- All for Nothing: One of the General's reasons for the cover up is that they likely would never be able to bring his daughter's assailants to justice, but the detectives are able to bust them all in a few days despite the trail being years old. However, the reasons why Brenner and Sunhill were able to identify the culprits so quickly were all a result of the time lapse. Campbell's former academy psychologist only revealed the name of one of the culprits after he was distraught by being informed of Campbell's death, and the methods used to get that guy to confess and identify the other perpetrators relied on forensic technology having sufficiently developed in the intervening years to make the threat credible. It's open to speculation how successful the investigation would have been if it were carried out immediately after the fact, and if the military would be willing to break medical ethics in regard to the severity of the crime. But then again, the point was the military, General Campbell included, decided that their image of integrity was more important than actually having integrity. By covering up Elizabeth's rape, they preserved West Point's image, and General Campbell even got a promotion out of it. All it cost them was Elizabeth.
- Armies Are Evil: Not exactly, since while this film portrays some of the worse parts of the service, it also shows most of the soldiers themselves are normal, hardworking men and women and that it's just a few bad apples who end up doing all the damage... save that the key plot element is that the crimes of those "bad apples" are often covered up instead of prosecuted rather than suffer a scandal. In a flashback, after Elizabeth's gangrape by a group of fellow soldiers back at the academy, the pair of (male) soldiers who find her are both completely horrified. However, high command orders everyone to shut up — and the fact that everyone does keep their mouths shut for years is why Elizabeth goes stark staring mad, knowing that so many of her "comrades" including her father would conceal such a crime if they were Just Following Orders to do so.
- Artistic License Military:
- Brenner tells someone that, "you have no right to remain silent," when Article 31 of the UCMJ allows precisely that. In the book, it was a valid statement. Brenner told the person that he was speaking to, "You are under arrest and you are not a suspect in this crime, therefore you do not have the right to remain silent and you are required to answer my questions."
- Psychological Operations or Psy-Ops as it is referred to here, does exist under Army Special Operations Command. However, their mission is primarily the generation of propaganda materials to demoralize enemy troops, or to turn the local civilian populace against an enemy. They do not figure out how to play head games with enemy combatants, as depicted in the movie. A lot of those "mind games" could be construed as dangerously close to torture.
- Bittersweet Ending: Brenner is able to give Elizabeth the justice she deserves at the cost of his own career. But he makes the correct decision in choosing his own integrity over blind loyalty to the military.
- Bondage Is Bad: Captain Campbell's sexual practices (seducing her superiors and then engaging in extreme BDSM sessions with at least one of them) are quickly used to establish that she had become mentally unhinged before her death. Brenner can't even stand to look at the tapes she shot, stating that it couldn't be the same woman he met a few days ago.
- Call-Back: "When this whole thing began I told you that we would find the son of a bitch, Sir. I didn't expect that the son of a bitch would be you."
- Calling the Old Man Out:
My father was a drunk, a gambler, and a womanizer. I worshipped him.
- The entire reason for Campbell's undermining of her father's position by seducing most of his staff, as revenge for the cover-up of her rape at West Point.
- Subverted by Brenner in an offhand comment when questioned if he liked his own father.
- Cowboy Cop: Brenner disregards police procedure several times throughout the film, most notably not cooperating with the off-base police and having a crime scene crew initially search the victim's house, both of these actions would have helped him in the case much quicker.
- Daddy's Girl: Subverted. We're initially led to believe that Campbell was an archetypal father's daughter military brat who emulated his choosing a career in the army, but as Brenner and Sunhill discover, they viciously hated each other and evolved into mortal enemies because of him helping cover up her rape at West Point in exchange for a promotion.
- Deceased Fall-Guy Gambit: Col. Moore's suicide is staged so he can be used as the fall guy.
- Dirty Old Man: Colonel Moore is shown to be a rather sleazy sort, having engaged in hardcore bondage sessions with his "student" Elizabeth Campbell.
- Driving Question: Beyond the Whodunnit of Elizabeth Campbell's rape and murder, Colonel Moore expresses the real driving question of the mystery ("What's worse than rape?") and states that Brenner will truly understand Elizabeth's death once he's discovered the answer. It's personal betrayal.
- Erotic Asphyxiation: Elizabeth got up to all kinds of kinky stuff, this included. There are elements of this in her rape and (consequently) murder, as well, as the perpetrators tied a noose around her neck during the assault, and her cause of death was strangulation.
- Even Evil Has Standards: General Campbell is a scumbag who profited off his daughter's rape as a means of career advancement, (irreparably damaging her psyche and causing the issues that would later lead to her death) but he's aghast when Colonel Fowler admits to Brenner and Sunhill that he covered up the crime because he believed the general had killed his own daughter.
- Evil Lawyer Joke: This exchange:Colonel Robert Moore: Then wouldn't it behoove me to retain the services of an attorney? I know a good one.
Warrant Officer Paul Brenner, C.I.D.: Two problems there. First the obvious: there are no good ones. Second, you're not a civilian, Colonel, you're in the army. You have no rights to an attorney. You have no right to remain silent. And if you don't cooperate I may have to put you in jail and that would make me feel really bad.
- While Brenner and Sunhill are looking through Elizabeth's belongings after her death, they see old news photographs of General Campbell holding his daughter in his arms while visiting a recently pacified warzone to prove to the press that the area under his command is now safe. Sunhill notes that the little girl looks terrified. This foreshadows that Campbell is not above using his daughter to advance his own career, ultimately denying her justice by covering up her rape at West Point for his own advancement in the chain of command.
- Brenner tells Sunhill early on in the film that motives for murder include "profit, revenge, jealousy, to conceal a crime, to avoid humiliation and disgrace, or plain old homicidal mania." Kent murders Elizabeth out of homicidal mania because she told him he meant nothing to her/jealousy that she was sleeping with other men, and then killed Moore to conceal his crime. Elizabeth did what she did to get revenge on her father, the general, and Colonel Fowler, his aide, helped General Campbell to cover up his involvement so that the general could avoid disgrace. Literally everyone's motives are covered by this line.
- The General's Daughter: Not a straight example, despite the title - Elizabeth tries to invoke this trope in order to discredit her father, rather than any of the men under his command.
- Lying to the Perp: When questioning a suspect of the gang-rape, Sunhill pulls out a pair of women's underwear in an evidence bag and leads him to believe that they're Captain Campbell's DNA-evidence-filled underwear from the night of the assault. He promptly starts talking about how he tried to stop the rape, and reveals the identities of the other men involved.
- Love Makes You Evil: Kent fell in love with Elizabeth after she slept with him repeatedly, explaining that he "just wanted to be with her forever." He kills her when she rejects him, because as Sunhill explains she was too emotionally damaged to love anybody.
- Motive Rant: The killer doesn't give his until he's asked. A more eager and unsolicited Motive Rant is made by Col. Fowler, the General's adjutant, in an effort to justify the actions of the person he mistakenly believes to be the killer — General Campbell.
- Ominous Latin Chanting: An oddly diegetic example—"O Fortuna" happens to be playing in Col. Moore's home when he's found dead.
- Parental Betrayal: Turns out to be the key element. General Campbell helped cover up his daughter's rape in exchange for a promotion; he tries to justify it with protecting the honor of West Point, the base where the rape occurred, but he got another star out of it. Elizabeth could probably have recovered from the rape, as she was already smiling at her father when he came back from overseas to visit her. The betrayal was significantly more traumatic, and destroyed her.
- Phallic Weapon: During a flashback sequence of Captain Campbell's gang rape while at West Point, a soldier is shown stroking the barrel of his rifle in a way that is highly suggestive of masturbation.
- Promiscuity After Rape: Captain Elizabeth Campbell became a sexual deviant after enduring a horrific gang rape years before during her training at West Point. However, this is revealed to be a subversion: she wanted to get revenge on her father the General, who helped cover up the rape, by seducing most of his staff to embarass him. The main character concludes that this was the real cause of her Sanity Slippage, not the rape itself.
- Rape as Drama: The mystery is mostly an excuse. Most of the film focuses on the rape(s), to the point the murder ends up dismissed as a secondary detail by several characters. And ultimately it's defied; As Brenner explains at the end of the film that while Kent killed Elisabeth, in a metaphorical sense her father was the true killer, as he destroyed her as a person with his betrayal.
- Rape and Revenge: A more elaborate example than usual is the reason why Elizabeth Campbell seduced all of the men under her father's direct command over the course of several years — so she would be able to humiliate the general as vengeance for him covering up her rape. It's even called "an exercise in psychological warfare" by one of the accused. General Campbell actually allows her death to happen because he wants her to stop hurting him.
- Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Brenner spends the whole movie trying to figure out who killed Elisabeth, which leads to an investigation of her rape while at West Point which was covered up. During his search for truth, he is told by Col. Moore that what happened to her was worse than rape. His response, "What's worse than rape?" is pure this trope. The answer is: Betrayal. The General agreed to help cover up his daughter's rape in exchange for a promotion.
- Rape Leads to Insanity: Subverted. It turns out that it wasn't her brutal gang rape during military school that lead to the late Elisabeth Campbell's Sanity Slippage. The betrayal of her General father, who refused to investigate the crime further because he thought they wouldn't be able to apprehend the suspects and because he allowed himself to be bought out by his own superiors, was the event that broke her mind and sent her into a downward spiral.
- Refuge in Audacity: Brenner hits on Elisabeth with a basket full of bath products. Elisabeth doesn't respond that well due to her psychological problems... At first.Brenner: I like the pink soaps... I like the skin softener, and I particularly like the bath beads. Sometimes I fill the tub with skin softeners and bath beads. I light a few candles, put on some Coltrane and soak my troubles away.
Elisabeth: Very good, First Sergeant. I levied an accusation of sexism at you, and you took it three times around the dance floor.
- Smug Snake: General Campbell, as he sucks up to Brenner when it seems he can bribe him into covering up his role in hushing up his daughter's rape and later his own involvement in the events that lead to her murder. When Brenner makes it clear he's going to have the general court-martialed, all courtesy and respect goes straight out the window and the general tells him that 'he doesn't have the balls.'
- Straight Gay: Col. Moore and his attorney.
- Taking You with Me: The killer deliberately steps on a landmine in an attempt to blow up Brenner and Sunhill along with himself. He's the only one caught in the blast.
- There Are No Therapists: Averted. Campbell's psychologist at West Point did all he could to help her recover from the trauma of the gang-rape and her father's betrayal. It didn't help, as she had already closed herself off to outside support by then.
- Treachery Is a Special Kind of Evil: The film combines this trope with Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil. A female officer, the eponymous General's daughter, is revealed to have endured a horrific gang rape from male soldiers while she was enrolled at West Point. The rape was already traumatizing, but she might have recovered from it until her father betraying her by covering the event up to get a promotion for himself broke her psyche completely. The investigator (played by John Travolta) ends up concluding that it was her father who really killed her and promises that he'll prosecute both him and the rapists for their crimes.Brenner: Someone once asked me what's worse than rape. Now I know the answer. Betrayal.
- Working with the Ex: Brenner and Sunhill have a... complicated history.