Wow, this one will put you through
the wringer. Especially if you are
a parent, and tried to raise a child, and realized full well that the
“product” which emerges is its own person, over which you have
painfully limited influence.
Bill Carroll (Michael Sheen) is just
a guy who goes to work every day, and comes home wanting some peace and
quiet. How many guys are there out
there like that? He and his wife
are civil enough. But they’ve
obviously drifted apart. Their only
child, a son, Sam (Kyle Gallner), is off at college.
Kate (Maria Bello) works as a copy editor, and that kind of
marketable perfectionism is actually a logical extension of her
personality. She recycles, she
plants flowers around her suburban home, which she keeps spotless.
She maintains good eating habits, and keeps herself trim and fit.
She easily discusses housekeeping matters with Bill, but their
emotional distance is palpable. She
thinks maybe they should take a vacation together.
He thinks maybe he should just get an apartment, since he sleeps in
the guest bedroom, anyway. They’re
not especially rancorous to each other, at least overtly.
All the anger is safely bottled up, and, they think, hidden from
Meanwhile, their son is trying to
deal with his own rage issues, but he’s so used to not expressing them
that he lets himself build up like a pressure cooker until he just
explodes. One sunny morning in
suburbia, Bill and Kate get the dreaded cops at the front door visit, the
one that represents the parental nightmare of cosmic proportions.
Not only was their son killed in the nearby campus rampage, he was
the shooter. And after he killed
several innocents, he blew his head off.
How can anyone possibly cope with
such unspeakable emotional devastation? Sure,
they go through all the classic stages of grief:
they can’t believe it’s true, there must be some mistake, their
son must have fallen into bad influences, it can’t possibly be their
fault, can it? But why didn’t
they have an inkling? How didn’t
they know this violent fire was smoldering?
They search for answers, but find none.
At least, at church the following
Sunday, the minister reads a passage about forgiveness, and the camera
just focuses on Bill and Kate with bowed heads, tolerating the withering
stares around them. At first, they
are prisoners in their own home, because of the media assault, and then,
when they retreat to the house of her brother and his wife, they find they
can’t leave their sorrow at the door, either.
Yes, they are subject to sudden fits
of sobbing, and crying jags can happen at any provocation.
They try to bury their son quietly in a private ceremony, but visit
the grave later to find the word “killer” spray-painted on the
tombstone. Their son’s social
network sites are filled with anonymous invective.
Bill and Kate find themselves looking to each other for any kind of
comfort, but they’ve almost forgotten how to be genuine to each other,
and even their fits and starts are syncopated by recriminations and
suspicions and a their own tsunamis of self-loathing.
But sometimes the one person in the world you need most to be there
for you is also the one person who remembers the most reasons to resent
“Beautiful Boy” is an incredibly
powerful stress test of one fragile relationship.
And all of us who have ever loved deeply and lost profoundly will
find points of contact, if we can stand the intensity of standing so close
to the hellish inferno of soul-searing guilt.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Co-Pastor,
United Presbyterian Church,