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Mystic River

Mystic River is the story of the end of innocence for three young boys who grew up in the same city. The day that Dave disappeared into the car of a stranger not to return for four long and grueling days was the day these three boys lost their innocence and began to journey down three very different life paths. The book and movie remain true to this overall theme even though there are slight differences in how the story is told. It is always easier to describe an event by writing about it because many details can be included.

In contrast, a movie can show a clear picture of what is happening but small details are often lost in the viewing. Dennis Lehane writes in such a way that captivates readers and makes them really feel as if they get to know each character. Similarly, Clint Eastwood captivates audiences by directing his actors in such a powerful way that the story seems real and comes alive. A synopsis of the plot is briefly described and building on this plot several themes emerge and these are discussed as well.

Finally, an analysis of character development is offered in order to illustrate the different paths that each of the three boys chose after Dave disappeared. Jimmy and Sean are best friends despite the fact that Jimmy resides in the poor section of town and his father works for Sean’s father. Jimmy and Sean get to play together every Saturday while their fathers drink beer. Sometimes Jimmy brings Dave along to play too. However, in both the book and movie, it is quickly apparent that Dave is different than the other two boys and doesn’t fit in very well.

Despite these differences the boys get along well together and have a great deal of fun playing. When Jimmy’s father loses his job the boys did not get to play together as often as before and the fact that Jimmy worked for Sean’s father causes some discomfort. One day when all three boys do have the chance to see one another, Jimmy and Dave have an argument and get into a fight in the middle of the road. A police car happens to drive by. The police officers make Dave get in the car and they tell him that they will take him home. However, these men were not really police officers and they do not take Dave home.

Instead, this is the turning point in the lives of these three young men. It is never explicitly disclosed what happened to Dave while he was with the men but it is certainly implied that whatever happened was extremely traumatic for a little boy. This is the first emergence of an important theme in both the book and the movie – the loss of boyhood innocence. When Dave returns home after four days it signals the shift that these young boys’ lives took and shows the evolution of each character from that point through to adulthood.

Each of the three boys responded to the tragedy in a different way and they each changed into the adult they would become based on that one day. Sean grows up to become a police detective. It is apparent that he responded to the tragedy that befell his friend by choosing the appropriate side of the law to prevent such things from happening to anyone else. Kevin Bacon plays Sean and portrays a man who works diligently towards upholding the law. Jimmy is played by Sean Penn and he portrays a man who is working towards getting his life back on track after spending some time in jail.

Tim Robbins plays Dave and does a good job of portraying a man with a traumatic past who is trying hard to live a decent life while also trying to keep what happened to him a secret. As each of these choices determines the eventual life path each man takes, tragedy strikes again when they are adults. Jimmy was married with a young daughter, Katie, when he was sent to prison. While incarcerated his wife died so he when was released from prison his entire world revolved around Katie. He eventually remarries and has other daughters but his relationship with Katie was always very special. However, when Katie is nineteen, she is murdered.

Once again this crime will have a profound effect on the evolution of each character and the loss of innocence theme reemerges in a much different way. Jimmy is devastated at the loss of his daughter and vows to avenge her murder. Sean is the homicide detective assigned to the case. Dave becomes involved too as he is quickly named as a possible suspect in the crime. As the lives of the three men once again intersect another important theme comes to light – disconnection from the past. These three men are forced to work together in order to find out what happened to Katie as well as figure out whether or not Dave was responsible for the crime.

However, this partnership takes on a much different meaning than the partnership the young boys relied on when they were children. Instead of bonding over boyhood innocence, the adult men are bonded in their common desire to find out what happened but that bond is based on distrust and disconnectedness. As one watches the film or reads the book a sense of sadness pervades because it seems that none of the three men have truly gotten over what happened to Dave when they were children. This single event in their lives shaped their entire future and changed the men they would grow up to become.

Sadness is another important theme in both the book and the movie because it is the basis for many of the actions and character evolution that takes place over the course of the story. Prior to Katie’s murder, Sean spends his time solving homicides but he has failed to hold onto to any of his close relationships. He is separated from his wife, lives alone and relies on his partner in the police force for human contact. At the same time, Jimmy suffered from the sadness of losing his first wife and now the sadness of losing his oldest daughter. He overcame his time in prison to become a good father only to lose his daughter in the end.

However, Dave’s whole life was built on the sadness of being abducted by fake police officers when he was a child. Despite the fact that grew up, got married and attempted to live a normal life, Dave never recovered from what happened to him. Dave’s sadness is compounded upon when he becomes a suspect in Katie’s murder. The three men must now work together through their sadness in order to solve the crime. In this way, their characters move from a sense of disconnectedness to once again being bonded even though now it is through distrust and hatred.

These underlying themes build on the overall theme that is present throughout the entire novel as well as the entire movie. The unspeakable pain that is present in this story becomes the most powerful and striking theme of all. Sean and Jimmy go through the terrifying tragedy of seeing their friend being abducted and knowing they can do nothing to stop it. This becomes an even bigger issue when Dave fails to return home. Sean and Jimmy begin to live with the guilt of not stopping their friend from being taken and cannot remember enough about the car to help police search for Dave.

At the same time that Sean and Jimmy were trying to help police find their friend, Dave was going through something so unspeakable and terrifying that readers and audiences never gain a clear picture of everything that happened even though it is implied that the abductor was a pedophile. This painful experience affects each boy in a different way and their lives take on entirely different meaning. As the boys, particularly Dave, come to terms with what happened they become disconnected from each other so they must also deal with the loss of their best friends.

As terrible as this tragedy was, the boys have no inkling of the unspeakable pain that awaits them as adults. The novel and the film move from these opening scenes straight to the lives of the boys thirty years later. Each has built his life based on how he was changed as a child. Despite the past, each man appears to be trying to make a satisfactory life. This is changed when Jimmy’s daughter is found murdered and the men are once again connected to each other through the past. The movie portrays this unspeakable pain in a particularly striking way that gives a much different view of pain than the book was able to portray.

Sean Penn did an extraordinarily good job portraying the pain of a father being forced to identify his daughter at the morgue. Every parent’s worst fear is the loss of their child and this scene is able to portray this unimaginable pain in such a way that makes parents want to hug their children a bit tighter. However, the pain of Katie’s murder does not just affect Jimmy. Sean must deal with the pressure of solving the crime before Jimmy does in order to prevent him from taking justice into his own hands. This takes on a double meaning as Dave becomes a suspect in the murder.

Sean felt unimaginable pain when he was a child and was not able to protect his friend and now he has the chance to do just that – whether that protection exonerates Dave from the crime or keeps Jimmy from killing him. Eventually Jimmy does take matters into his own hands, kills Dave and dumps the body. While, this most likely make Jimmy feel better in the short term it only adds to the theme of unspeakable pain. Despite the fact that Jimmy felt that he had truly avenged the murder of his daughter he still had to face himself in the mirror and realize that he was no better of a person than Dave.

If Dave did kill Katie then this set him apart as a different kind of human being than Jimmy or Sean turned out to be. It is entirely probable that his abduction as a child had a profound enough effect on Dave that he would grow up to become a murderer. However, the fact that Jimmy was so willing to simply murder Dave based on his own opinion that he was a murderer points the fact that Jimmy essentially evolved to become just like Dave. On top of the unspeakable pain of losing his oldest daughter, Jimmy now has to also deal with the pain of knowing that he murdered one of his childhood best friends.

The overall air of mystery and secrets in this story was apparent throughout the novel and the movie. The implied nature of what happened to Dave is just that – assumptions and opinions. Dave never comes out to tell anyone exactly what happened to him during the four days he was missing. This secret nature continues throughout the rest of the story. It adds depth to the story because it forces a reader or audience to come to many of their own conclusions. For example, readers and audiences are left to wonder whether Dave killed Katie because he was very resentful about what happened to him as a child.

When the fake police officer approached the boys and asked them where they lived Jimmy lied and said he lived nearby even though he did not. Dave did not lie and he was the one that the abductor chose to take. One is left to wonder if Jimmy had not lied about where he lived if he would have been abducted along with Dave. Further, it can be assumed that Dave held some resentment towards Sean and Jimmy for not fighting harder to make the man leave him alone too. Even though they were little boys, it is hard not to allow human nature to place the blame on someone else.

Ultimately, one is left with the conclusion that Katie’s murder was a revenge murder. Dave wanted Jimmy, who narrowly escaped the same fate, to feel some of the unimaginable pain that he had spent his life trying to overcome. The evolution of the three main characters is part of what makes Mystic River so captivating both in print and film version. The opening scenes portray three young and innocent young boys who capitalize on their time together by playing and having a good time. When Dave is taken, this relationship is eliminated and the characters undergo their first change.

Rather than living their lives as innocent young boys playing together their characters become resentful and sorrowful adult men. Sean is unable to form close relationships with other people, including his own wife. He has a decent relationship with his partner but even that is not a replacement for the lack of human contact he has in his life. Jimmy suffers from a criminal past and the efforts it takes to move forward with a past like that following. Dave simply tries to survive by trying to make his life as normal as possible.

Each of these evolutions is important to the ultimate conclusion of the story. These three boys had the potential to remain close friends as they continued to grow up but an unspeakable act caused them to evolve into distrustful and disconnected grown men. While the movie was extremely close to the book, there is one important difference that was noticed between reading the book and watching the movie. When reading the book, one has sympathy for Dave and begins to silently cheer for him in the hopes that he will be able to overcome his childhood and find happiness.

Even when Dave comes home with blood on his clothes, one still secretly holds out the hope that either he will be exonerated or he will get away with the crime. The crime that was committed against Dave causes readers to view him a little bit differently and they begin to feel his pain and truly desire a happy ending for him. In contrast, Tim Robbins does such a good job of playing Dave that he appears evil and sinister at times and this causes audiences to have a much different opinion of his character. When the scene where he comes home with blood on his clothes occurs in the movie, one does not silently cheer for him.

Instead, audiences see a side of Dave that they may not have truly understood before and they begin to feel the same fear that his wife does as she lies next to him in bed. In this way, both readers and audiences feel a sort of restlessness because they cannot decide whether Dave is being unfairly accused of if he is truly capable of the crime. One other piece that allows audiences to begin to believe that Dave is a murderer is that one gets the chance to actually see Katie as opposed to the book where one reads about her but does not truly get to meet her.

One powerful scene from the book that did not appear in the movie was the scene where an adult Sean approaches his father about the day that Dave disappeared. Young children often look to their parents to help them make sense of terrible tragedies. This scene is similar. Sean wanted his father to help make sense of what happened when they were children but he was also disturbed about what was happening in the present and wanted to find comfort and solace from his father.

The entire book is based on the air of mystery and the human desire to know every detail about everything that personally affects them. While this scene with Sean’s father is absent from the movie, the desire to find out what happened is a major component of the book and the film. Sean and his partner want to do justice for Katie by using their detective positions to conduct a legal investigation. However, Jimmy is already so sure that he knew what happened that he is unwilling to wait for justice to prevail.

His human nature to avenge the murder of his daughter only adds to the overall desire to find out what happens because he kills Dave before the investigation is complete. One of the final scenes allows for deep thinking even as the story comes to a close. In the film, Sean makes a gun with his finger and points it at Jimmy. This signifies that Sean knows that Jimmy killed Dave. However, audiences are left to interpret this scene. The story does not continue to show whether or not Sean can prove that Jimmy killed Dave so this scene may be interpreted that Sean is going to bring Jimmy down.

However, it is more likely that this scene shows Sean telling Jimmy that he knows what he did but that it is all right with him. This scene is a good culminating scene that captures the overall themes of the story one last time. Sean and Jimmy have been through a lot of pain over the course of their lifetime and the murder of Dave is just one more thing they must deal with. Further, the events that took place when Dave was murdered are once again veiled in mystery and secrets so the story never explicitly explains what truly happened.

Ultimately, this is the beauty of fiction. Readers and audiences can absorb the story for what it is but can return to it later to glean much more meaning from it. This story can be read or viewed and then forgotten but the unspeakable pain that causes the evolution of the characters remains a mystery and leaves readers and audiences trying to figure out what happened long after they finish reading or watching. Helgeland, Brian. (2003). Mystic River. Warner Brothers. Lehane, Dennis. (2002). Mystic River. New York: HarperTorch.

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