Kevin Costner’s Mr. Brooks: Smart, White and a Serial Killer

In the 2007 psychological thriller Mr. Brooks, Kevin Costner stars as the eponymous Mr. Brooks, a wealthy and accomplished White American male. The film begins with him receiving an award for Portland, Oregon, Man of the Year, whereupon he thanks his faithful and attractive blonde wife. Mr. Brooks looks good in his tuxedo and exudes an enviable air of restrained confidence, quiet reason, and generous compassion. He’s a  Christian, an American man in the prime of life, a role model for those with traditional American values.

He is also an inveterate serial killer.

Mr. Brooks now joins a long list of other Hollywood films that feature a brilliant White man as serial killer. Take, for instance, Seven, a 1995 film starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman. These two detectives are chasing a serial killer (Kevin Spacey) who sadistically but with a literary flair dispatches his victims in gruesome ways.

Blood-splattered Kevin Spacey as a serial killer in "Seven"

Next, consider the film adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, where the protagonist, Patrick Bateman, is a product of Phillips Exeter Academy, Harvard, and Harvard Business School. A rising Wall Street star, Bateman (played by Christian Bale) is nonetheless a homicidal maniac, though not one without charming touches.

The book, “which recounts a New York investment banker’s secret life of rape, torture, murder, cannibalism and necrophilia” was of course praised by critics as well as academics for (what else?) “its transgressive and postmodern qualities.” You see, transgressive is good when it means casting a normal-appearing White guy as a monster. Transgressive would doubtless be bad if it violated the boundaries of academic left-chic multicultural ideology.

The modern template for Hollywood serial killers, however is Dr. Hannibal Lecter, particularly in the 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs. As an intellectually brilliant White guy, Dr. Lecter is the epitome of the modern image a serial killer. Never mind that at a more mundane level, actual serial killers are more likely to appear as ordinary

The brilliantly evil Mr. Lector

neighbors. Or that they are often Black rather than White.

What makes Mr. Brooks of interest to me are the ideological assumptions underpinning the story and its powerful imagery. For they both create and bolster the multicultural insistence that White men are uniquely evil in human history, no matter what their putative accomplishments may have been.

Mr. Brooks is akin to two films by Jewish director Joel Schumacher. In his 1996 film adaptation of John Grisham’s novel A Time to Kill, Schumacher creates a scene in which two filthy and brutish Southern Whites stalk, rape and hang a 10-year-old black girl named Tonya Hailey. Three years later his film 8mm, starring Nicolas Cage, appeared. In that film, evil emanated from White culture itself. For starters, a wealthy man named “Mr. Christian” has paid good money to commission an actual snuff film. The man hired to do the mutilation is shown to be an ordinary White man whose mother is repeatedly shown to be a practicing Christian.

And at the end of the film, the detective informs the widow Christian that her husband indeed sponsored a real snuff film. Overwhelmed, she kills herself, leaving a note saying, “Try to forget us.” The underlying message, then, is that White “Christian” society is irredeemably malevolent and must be made to disappear.

Turning to Mr. Brooks, we have the same theme about irredeemable evil. But director Bruce A. Evans succeeds in serving it up on ever more levels. To begin with, Brooks himself is shown with an addiction to killing, particularly when there is a sexual angle to it. In the first murder sequence of the film, for instance, he stalks a young couple and finally breaks into their house as they are having sex. As is his signature, after killing them, he poses them nude for pictures, which then become his sexual trophies. As much as he cherishes these trophies, however, his rules are that they must be destroyed so as to leave absolutely no evidence to the killings.

The writing, directing and cinematography in Mr. Brooks are first rate, as are the stars. This is perhaps Costner’s best role to date, finally severing him from the all-American boy image he invariably portrays. In a brilliant move, William Hurt is cast as Brooks’ alter ego “Marshall.” Throughout the movie the two verbally spar — and laugh — as they plot and carry out their killings — and keep from getting caught.

Kevin Costner and co-star William Hurt

Marshall is the id, the one who loves life and sex . . . and killing. Brooks embodies both the ego and super ego. The former is represented by Brooks’ daily character as shrewd businessman and loving family man. The latter is evidenced by Brooks’ constant praying to God to cure him of his affliction, or at least to give him the strength to resist these urges. This part of Brooks knows that what he is doing is evil.

The film explicitly shows that Brooks is a practicing Christian, reminding me of the 1997 Charlie Sheen film Bad Day on the Block (also known as Under Pressure). This film too begins with a public award being bestowed on an exemplary White male figure, in this case the heroic fireman portrayed by Sheen. Soon, however, we learn that this Christian fanatic has abused his family and now threatens the lives of his innocent neighbors. Throughout the film, he recites Christian Scripture, including when he twists and breaks the neck of an African American policewoman. (Earlier, he had sadistically murdered an Asian American repairman.)

We see a similar juxtaposition in Mr. Brooks, including first the public acclamation, followed by invoking Christian Scripture. In Brooks’ case, he intones what is commonly known as the “Serenity Prayer” used by Alcoholics Anonymous:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

We know he is Christian because of his use of “He” and “Him” to describe Jesus Christ.

Also, when he attends A.A. meetings, Brooks is shown inside a church replete with stained glass windows. Never mind that he could have just as easily been shown in a nondescript meeting hall or bland institutional room. Finally, in a later scene, when his college-age daughter informs him that she is pregnant, Brooks is adamant that she not get an abortion, a clear signifier that he is a conservative Christian.

What makes this film so unrelievedly multicultural, however, is the casting. Who are the White men in the film? In addition to Brooks and Marshall, there is one Mr. Baffert, witness to Brooks’ double murder. Baffert, whom Brooks later names “Mr. Smith,” is another intelligent White man, a mechanical engineer, the kind of man who in real life did so much to build America into the modern mechanical marvel that it is. In Mr. Brooks, though, he is a creep. His hair is dirty and unstyled, as is his scruffy beard. In contrast to the suave Brooks, he has no manners, style or even a sense of humor. Rather, he is a voyeur who admits to having photographed his neighbors during sex so he could later use the photos to masturbate.

It is during just such a photography session that Mr. Smith happens to capture on film Brooks killing the young lovers. In the kind of twist common to the film, rather than going to the police, he uses the pictures to blackmail Brooks. And not for money, either. Mr. Smith would like to blackmail Brooks into taking him out on his killing sprees and teaching him the finer points of thrill killing. Together, they do just that, and Mr. Smith is indeed elated at such cold blooded murder.

The only other main White male character is a sadistic killer called “The Hangman.” His specialty is hanging his victims in unique poses in various quarters. Newly escaped from prison, he becomes part of the plot. With a multitude of tattoos and a nasty drug habit, he’s a real number.

On the other hand, the good guys are not White males. In fact, the best good guy is not even a guy; it’s a female detective played by Demi Moore. Apparently she got such a thrill out of playing a character every bit the equal of a male soldier in G.I. Jane that she reprised the role ten years later in Mr. Brooks. In the 1997 G.I. Jane, she nearly bested the top Navy SEAL in a knock-down, no-holds-barred fight — and she had her hands tied behind her back. There’s no question about G.I. Jane being a blatant propaganda film for feminism.

Demi Moore as G.I. Jane

The same is true of Mr. Brooks, where Moore appears as Det. Atwood, a selfless crime fighter. The daughter of a very rich man, she opted to forge her own way in the world by becoming a cop. The motive, it seems, is the fact that her father openly displayed his disappointment with having a daughter rather than a son. So Moore’s character is again out to prove a feminist point.

Incidentally, her second husband is a rat-fink White male, too. He married her for the money and connections and now wants a divorce and $5 million-dollar settlement. During negotiations, we see that his lawyer is a woman, while Atwood has a black female lawyer as well as an older White male. For most of the film, however, only the powerful black woman with a buzz cut interacts with Atwood. Also, Atwood’s boss down at the precinct is a no-nonsense woman, while her partner is an African American male.

Thus far I’ve described a fairly typical modern Hollywood contrivance where the bad guys are White and the good people are not White males. In fact, you could say it’s a cliché to have such casting. What else would we expect from the liberal climate that is Hollywood?

This multicultural distraction is a shame because the kind of deep psychological study of a White man as shown in Mr. Brooks is not necessarily unwelcome, as unpleasant as it may be. In the absence of a hostile elite that is scripting — or at least eliciting —  these venomous depictions of White society, a movie such as Mr. Brooks could actually provide insight, or even a helpful perspective on the distortions modern life can engender in a man. If such negative imagery of White men were not so ubiquitous, the occasional role-model-gone-bad saga would be far from fatal. At a minimum, it would provide relief, if only imaginary and vicarious, from the routines of daily life.

Thus, for example, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 Psycho served far more as diversionary entertainment than as a component in the destruction of Western culture. With Eisenhower still in office and the Civil Rights movement yet to shatter the structure of American life, the culture of the time could withstand the negative portrayal of a White American male of the time. The good guys were White, and the bad guys were White.

Anthony Perkins at the Bates Motel

The Culture of Critique

What makes things so different today is the fact that American culture has been subjected to a withering campaign of critique calling into question the value of traditional American — if not Western — culture. And as I have argued elsewhere, a key component of this campaign has been Hollywood film.

Considered in this context, Mr. Brooks most decidedly serves as a further salvo in the war on White culture. The trope of a murderous White male nicely parallels the same lesson being taught to tens of millions of American high school and college students: that White nations became rich and powerful through genocide committed against others. Because Whites are incorrigible in this behavior, the only just solution is the elimination of the cause. Cue Susan Sontag’s obscene comment that “The white race is the cancer of human history.” (Incidentally, does anyone really believe that just because this war is currently waged primarily against White males that Whites as a whole will survive? To me, it has always seemed obvious that once White males are gone, White females are headed for extinction, too.)

What makes Mr. Brooks more than just a standard multicultural Hollywood tale is the fact that Mr. Brooks’ murderous compulsion is integral to his being, impossible to expunge. In fact, the logic of the story is that it is part of his DNA. We know this because the latter part of the film makes it explicit by showing that Brooks’ daughter has inherited this compulsion.

The daughter’s character is interesting. She first appears after dropping out of college and returning to Portland (minus her BMW or any money to pay for her cab). The movie makes clear that she was a student at Stanford but was admitted undeservedly. As her mother chides, “Your father pulled in favors to get you into that school.” This is the standard argument in favor of affirmative action — that “White privilege” allows under-qualified Whites access to prestigious institutions, not native ability.

As mentioned, the daughter is pregnant, but the real twist in the story comes when a detective from Palo Alto (again, a woman) turns up at the opulent Brooks estate to report that there’s been a hatchet murder back on campus. Though not officially a suspect, the daughter is questioned nonetheless. Brooks (and Marshall) quickly connect the dots: the daughter too has the killer gene and has begun acting upon the urges it creates.

The moralist in Brooks sees the dilemma: allow the police to proceed in their investigation and they will soon catch the careless daughter. One good aspect of that, he reasons, is that imprisonment may cure his daughter of her disease. On the other hand, it is his beloved daughter and soon she will have a child — his grandchild. Out of familial love, he must protect them. Consequently, he devises a scheme to go to Palo Alto, commit a copycat murder that will provide his daughter an alibi, and ultimately provide protection for his family.

Ironically, Marshall, who loves killing so much, is against this plan because of the risks involved. Further, the motive is wrong. Brooks will do this for reasons other than the thrill of it, and that bothers Marshall. But Brooks will protect his daughter, so off he goes to Stanford, new hatchet in possession, and creates an alibi for her.

So we know that Brooks truly loves his daughter and is crushed when he learns that she has inherited his “sickness.” This knowledge haunts him, as is shown in a dream sequence where he comforts her as she sleeps. Suddenly, she stabs him in the neck with scissors she has been concealing and he bleeds to death, scissors still embedded in his jugular.

In closing, I’ll say that the film leaves me with truly mixed feelings. Seen in isolation, it is a film of rare power, insight, and quality. But as I’ve argued, this film does not exist in isolation. On the contrary, it is a culture construct existing at a specific time and place — and for specific reasons. By featuring two Aryan-looking men with piercing blue eyes who personify the old American elite as such malevolent characters, the film sends messages both conscious and subliminal that are sure to prejudice viewers against people like this in real life.

It is far too uncomfortably a cinematic image of the anti-White “culture of critique.”

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