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  Mr Brooks
Bruce A Evans

Stuart Lenig
posted 8 October 2007

‘You wicked thing, do you want to murder me in my sleep?' -- Cupid to Psyche

In the myth of Cupid and Psyche, Psyche thinks she has married a dragon and in the night obtains a knife to protect herself. When Cupid, her real husband, awakes and sees her with the knife, he thinks his wife is plotting to kill him and this creates the complicated bonding and fracturing of Cupid and Psyche, one of mythology's most problematic psychological romances. Director Bruce A Evans' Mr Brooks examines a similarly cleft 'psyche.' The film is a parable of the modern animus that moves in darkly postmodern ironic/comic turns welding the problems of violence, morality, and identity to the fleeting notion of self. It is the tale of a serial killer who has a few personality problems. Underlying Evans' anxious tale is the disquieting notion that the force that guides and sustains modern life may be violence and murder.

Kevin Costner plays this sociopathic everyman, a wanderer on the fringes of sanity and reality who lives a charmed life dominated by family, capitalism and absolute amorality. It is as if Bill Gates decided to take up serial killing as a hobby. He struggles with his choices, but ultimately his demonic half (played by William Hurt) is a full partner, and more often the more winning and charming side of his character. When confronted by mortal choices, Brooks is deeply concerned by his own immorality, but this neither stops or alters him. As director, Evans, portrays him, he is an outsider/demigod impervious to the meaning of his brutality. Like all contemporary protagonists, he is complicated. He kills, but he is also in a Twelve Step programme. He has problems with Hurt, who doesn't want to quit. And ultimately Brooks likes his disturbing dark side.

Though serious, multilayered, and fully capable of exploring moral ambiguities, Brooks is that style of literary thriller that neither suffers from its own cleverness, or wallows in its twisted plot arabesques, but relishes the complexities and rondos of a complicated social structure. The film possesses a subtle and twisted understanding of psychology. Kevin Costner’s alternately chilling, warm, mesmerising, and unsettling performance exudes equal parts all-American dad and vengeful serial assassin in a single package. With his doppelganger, William Hurt, we have a tag team of humor, sly wit, and irony that debates issues of personality, the collapse of the modern psyche, and the concern that split psyches may be preferable. Evans postulates that perhaps the disjunctive and deeply localised and partitioned psyche is the only way in which the modern being can negotiate the confines of urban society. Could it be that Bruce A Evans’ and Raynold Gideon's script argues that in our Prozac conditioned culture, the split personality might be the healthiest one in the room, even if it is talking to itself…

But far from indulging in a droll exercise in macabre style, the filmmakers deftly pair demonic behavior with saintly behavior. Kostner's Brooks' is a god-like and imperial figure, mentally unstable but ultimately in control, a creature of lusts and a luster after peace. Costner is a manufacturer, a bringer of good things to society, he is also Vishnu the destroyer. He is a Greek god, all powerful but frail over his love for his daughter, herself a damaged, distorted, and puzzling personality.

Costner works here in subtle and detailed strokes providing a complicated and deeply realised portrait of the problems of modern maleness. In his fifties, he retains his Promethean energy here married to a sensitive and diabolical wit. William Hurt is a Dionysius to Costner's Apollo. Brooks illustrates how the divided psyche presents not only crises but opportunities to compartmentalise issues of modern life: the enjoyment of indulgence, the duty of being dutiful, the mask of society, the needs of the id, the calculating and reasoning spirit, and the free flowing animus that fuels the western mentality.

The film is indulgent towards Brooks and marries his struggle with his darkness to a larger search for meaning. You can't help but like this guy. At the same time, he is a repulsive nutjob, dangerous and unpredictable. But Evans and writer Gideon have crafted a mythic frame for Kostner's Brooks. He is grandly tortured, and the loving relationship with his troubled daughter and charming wife suggests a damned character living in two realms, that of the living and the dead. Like Orpheus he is unable to extricate his own personal Eurydice from the path below and he knows this. Still, it is intriguing and nearly giddy fun to watch him struggle on his own hook. As he descends deeper into his own abyss, he makes his own purgatory something of a warm bath. ‘You've been a good boy for a long time, and you know you want to do this,’ he tells himself.

The film flirts with carnivalesque inversions of the ordered world and the perverse underworld of carnival interaction. Bakhtin described that underworld thus: ‘all the images of the carnival are dualistic: they unite within themselves both poles of change and crisis: birth and death, the blessing and curse…top and bottom’. Indeed, Brooks is living in a dual world of love and hate, devotion and abjection, forgiveness and punishment, closeness and isolation. He is criminal and family man, demon and saint, troubled and focused. Kostner and Hurt mine the ironies and humor from such a convoluted character, and Demi Moore provides a sense of reality in the chaotic world of Brooks' orgy of murders. Throughout, the carnivalesque sense of doubling and multiplicity reappears in the way Kostner and Hurt respond to themselves, Kostner embraces Moore, and finally in the mirroring of Kostner and his junior associate, Dane Cook. For Costner's Mr Brooks, murder isn't fun or traumatic, it is more of a cross to bear, like attending one more family reunion.

 

     
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