Review: A Beautiful Boy

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“Beautiful Boy” is a film about a couple and their failing relationship. At the beginning the husband is about to move out, and the wife is pissed because he was supposed to go on vacation with her and their kid. But it all turns out okay. The vacation gets canceled. Their son shoots a large number of people, and that brings them back together.

It’s a film about how a couple’s son, plus two dozen other people, must die to save their marriage. The majority of the film shows these two being quiet and depressed; scenes of characters being quiet and depressed while washing dishes; quiet and depressed while drinking coffee. The couple gets in a real fight only once.

If ever a character which ought to be important is treated as an object, this is it: the ultimate narcissist film. In the entire movie, the closest thing to an explanation behind the son’s mass killing is this: “You all have blood on your hands. You have vandalized my heart and you break my soul.” A movie doesn’t need to go in depth, but this is supposed to be an important character who the lead characters love. He’s the title character and the driving force. Yet the couple’s awkwardness and quiet depression attaches to nothing – they don’t investigate; they run away from reporters. The dad gets pissed because the people at work are looking at him; he’s self-conscious, and at another point, while talking to a hotel employee, frankly doesn’t give a damn when someone says his son is a psychopath right to his face. He has to turn off the TV when a Glenn Beck look-a-like says the parents should come forward so the dead kids’ parents can “take a crack at them.”

Nearly the only time the son gets mentioned in conversation is when the parents wonder if they should blame themselves. The parents crash at a hotel and get off work, get drunk, eat junk food, and live the way their son should’ve been living at college. Then this happens:

Narcissist 1:“Did we do something?”
Narcissist 2: “No! — Why does it have to be our fault?” (Note: He definitely doesn’t say, “Honey, it’s not your fault.”)

We know that the kid is quiet and doesn’t have a lot of friends – we can take for granted that the script writer has zero imagination, but are we supposed to think the son was quiet and didn’t have a lot of friends for no reason? It’s entirely possible they did do something or let something happen. It’s also entirely possible they had nothing to do with it.

There’s a fight later and narcissist 2 has a change of heart:
“It was our fault. We didn’t give him hope. We didn’t show him how to be happy.”

This is as meaningless as “you have vandalized my heart”. Nobody’s parents give them hope or show them how to be happy. So maybe the kid had a brain tumor. Maybe he had lupus. Maybe he got made fun of for writing bad poetry.

Or: he was a greater narcissist than his parents were. He learned their absurd, suburban self-consciousness. He moved to college and became nobody, and it was too much. At home he was at least the furniture-kid, and his parents said he was special just because it’s part of their role. At college he would have to actually do something so other people thought he was in some way valuable. He had no other narcissists around to reflect off of, so his identity had to be louder. Bad poetry didn’t impress anyone and being alone and miserable is so passé. He cobbled together an identity that would be sure to get someone’s attention.

The parents are to blame because the kid learned what mattered from them. And what matters is what you project, your image, your brand. Not what you do or who you are.

If a few dozen people need to die so you can be popular, son, so you can feel fulfilled, that’s fine with us. We’ll get a book deal and live the dream with you. We’ll look like we’re crying.
 

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4 Responses to Review: A Beautiful Boy

  1. heysherri says:

    The last two sentences just blew my mind, and I thought I’d thought all the thoughts there were to have about narcissism. Narcissism is a value. Jesus Christ, someone help us.

  2. Dan Dravot says:

    At college he would have to actually do something so other people thought he was in some way valuable.

    Like occupying Wall Street, for example.

    Agreed about the last two sentences. Gotta follow your bliss, tiger!

  3. TheCoconutChef says:

    The only thing I could think of while reading the text was Louis CK: “When I was younger I wanted my parent to die so I would be special the next day at school.”

    That movie would be the adult version of this?

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