The Good Son (film)

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The Good Son
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Joseph Ruben
Produced by Joseph Ruben
Mary Ann Page
Written by Ian McEwan
Starring Macaulay Culkin
Elijah Wood
Music by Elmer Bernstein
Cinematography John Lindley
Editing by George Bowers
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • September 24, 1993 (1993-09-24)
Running time 87 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $17 million
Box office $60,613,008

The Good Son is a 1993 American psychological thriller film directed by Joseph Ruben and written by English novelist Ian McEwan. The film stars Macaulay Culkin and Elijah Wood.


In Arizona, Mark Evans (Elijah Wood) is taken to the hospital by his father Jack (David Morse) to visit his dying mother, Janice (Ashley Crow). Having been assigned for a business trip to Tokyo, Japan, Jack takes Mark to stay with his brother Wallace (Daniel Hugh Kelly) and sister-in-law Susan (Wendy Crewson) in Maine. Mark is re-introduced to his extended family, including his cousins Connie (Quinn Kay Culkin) and Henry (Macaulay Culkin). Mark and Henry get along at first, and Henry seems to be nice and well-mannered. In discussing the death of Mark's mother and that of Henry's baby brother Richard, however, Henry expresses an abnormal fascination with death, making Mark uneasy.

Henry continues to display increasingly psychopathic behavior, which Mark is unable to tell Wallace and Susan about due to Henry's dark threats. Later, Henry insinuates he will try to kill his sister. Terrified something will happen to Connie, Mark spends the night in her room.

The next morning, Mark awakens to find Henry has taken Connie ice skating. At the pond, Henry purposely throws his sister in the thin ice. The ice collapses and Connie nearly drowns before she is rescued and taken to the hospital. Susan becomes suspicious of Henry when he visits Connie's room, planning to smother her, but Susan, sitting in the dark, interrupts him.

Susan then finds a rubber duck in Henry's shed; it had once belonged to Richard and was with him in the bathtub the night he drowned, after which it went missing. When Susan confronts Henry, he coldly reminds her the toy had belonged to him before it had been Richard's and asks for it back. Susan refuses to give it back. Henry demands it as he tries to wrest it from Susan. Susan becomes scared as she and Henry engage in a tug of war over it. Henry violently takes it from Susan, runs out of the shed to the cemetery, and throws it in the well, indicating Richard meant nothing to him.

Henry later insinuates to Mark he will kill Susan rather than let Mark continue to develop a relationship with her. Due to a misunderstanding that Mark was trying to kill Henry, Wallace locks Mark in the den. Henry asks a suspicious Susan to go for a walk with him, while Mark escapes the den and chases after them. Susan firmly asks if Henry killed his brother. Knowing he can't weasel his way out of the question, Henry indirectly implies he killed Richard by replying, "What if I did?"

Horrified of what her son has become, Susan tells Henry that he needs help. He flees into the woods, preferring to die instead of being sent to a mental institution. Susan chases him, afraid he will try to kill himself. She arrives at a cliff, which Henry shoves her off of. She holds on precariously, while Henry picks up a large rock he intends to throw down at her. Just then, Mark arrives and tackles his cousin, and they fight while Susan climbs back up. In the ensuing brawl, the boys roll off the cliff, and are caught by Susan. She arduously hangs onto both boys with one hand. Henry holds on with both his hands, but Mark's one-handed grip slips.

Wanting to save them both, and yet understanding she can save only one of them, Susan sees Henry icily calm again, confident that his mother will save her "good" son. Though agonized by the decision, Susan now knows how far Henry is willing to go – if saved, he will likely kill his mother anyway, now that she knows the truth about him. She lets him go, choosing to save Mark, while a shocked Henry plummets to his death. She pulls Mark up, and they both look down to see Henry's corpse on the rocks below, which is washed away into the sea. Susan and Mark then share an emotional embrace.

When Mark returns to Arizona, he wonders if Susan would again make the same choice to save him instead of Henry, but knows it is something he'll never ask her.


  • Elijah Wood as Mark Evans. The death of his mother and his father going on a business trip in Tokyo, Japan is what causes him to be left with his relatives in Maine. He is also the first to learn the truth about Henry.
  • Macaulay Culkin as Henry Evans. Adept at appearing normal, Henry is in fact a violent psychopath, willing to kill anyone he dislikes or who learns the truth about him killing his little brother Richard out of jealousy.
  • Wendy Crewson as Susan Evans, Henry's mother and Mark's aunt. She is initially unwilling to believe the truth about her son.
  • David Morse as Jack Evans, Mark's father.
  • Daniel Hugh Kelly as Wallace Evans, Henry's father and Jack's brother.
  • Jacqueline Brookes as Alice Davenport, a shrink.
  • Quinn Kay Culkin as Connie Evans, Henry's sister whom he despises out of jealousy.
  • Ashley Crow as Janice Evans, Mark's mother whose death starts a chain of events.


The film received a mostly negative response from critics, with a 24% overall score on Rotten Tomatoes.[1] Roger Ebert, who deemed the film inappropriate for children, awarded it just half a star, calling the project a "creepy, unpleasant experience".[2] He and Gene Siskel later gave it "Two Thumbs Down":[3]

Here you have America's favorite kid throwing a dummy off of a little bridge over a roadway, causing an accident. That scares me. I think it's highly irresponsible to show a youngster doing something like that. I think if kids go see the picture, some are likely to imitate it.

While the film itself was generally panned by critics, Elijah Wood and Macaulay Culkin's performances were award nominated. Wood won Saturn Award for Best Performance by a Young Actor, while Culkin was nominated for an MTV Movie Award for Best Villain.[citation needed]

Box office[edit]

The Good Son received US$44,789,789 at the North American box office revenues, and another $15,823,219 in other territories, for a total worldwide box office take of $60,613,008.[4][5]


Following the completion of his novel The Child in Time, English novelist Ian McEwan was invited by 20th Century Fox to write a screenplay "about evil - possible concerning children." McEwan recalled, "The idea was to make a low budget, high class movie, not something that Fox would naturally make a lot of money on."

Despite being well received, the end result was deemed insufficiently commercial by the parties that commissioned it, and it floated around Hollywood until being discovered by independent producer Mary Ann Page. Enthusiastic about the script, originally sent to her as a writing sample, Page tried to get the project off the ground for three and a half years. The film was briefly set up at Universal Studios, during which Brian Gilbert was attached as director, but it collapsed thereafter.

Following the successes of Home Alone and Silence of the Lambs, which respectively demonstrated the appeal of both a movie about kids and of an "extreme thriller," Fox itself chose to revisit the project, which they now saw as viable. Director Michael Lehmann (Heathers) became attached, Laurence Mark was appointed as a co-producer, and McEwan was called in for rewrites. Mary Steenburgen was cast as the mother with two unknowns (including Jesse Bradford as the bad seed) starring as the boys. McEwan was optimistic about the project and by November of 1991, sets were being built in Maine for a production that would cost approximately $12 million.

This progress was suddenly interrupted when Kit Culkin, Macaulay Culkin's father and manager, at the time a notoriously influential force in Hollywood due to the child's stardom, wanted his son to star in the film. Wishing to prove Macaulay's capacity in a dark role, he made his part in the The Good Son a condition for his appearing in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. Fox agreed enthusiastically due to Culkin's bankability. As the movie was originally scheduled to shoot at the same time as Home Alone 2, the start date for The Good Son was pushed back for a year, making Steenburgen no longer available but enabling Elijah Wood's involvement.

Director Lehmann and producer Mark conflicted with the imposition, leading both to leave the project. The demanding Culkin would go on to insist that his daughter Quinn receive a role in the film and vetted replacement director Joseph Ruben (Sleeping with the Enemy). Furthermore, the budget had risen to an estimated $20 million.

McEwan found himself performing further rewrites that continued to simplify the story to satisfy Ruben's comparatively mainstream tastes, and was ultimately unceremoniously removed from the project altogether when another screenwriter was commissioned. Despite this, McEwan was awarded sole writing credit in arbitration when he contested a shared credit.[6]


A tie-in novel was published alongside the movie's release in 1993, written by Todd Strasser. The novel elaborates on the movie, detailing how Henry was born a sociopath, rather than being some personification of evil.

In the novel, Henry's mother Susan eventually discovers that Henry is unable to understand emotions like love and sorrow, and that pleasure derived from selfish actions and the torment of others are the few things he truly feels. The book also concludes differently from the movie, ending with Mark returning to Uncle Wallace's home in Maine one year later. Mark and Susan visit Henry's grave, which includes an epitaph: "Without Darkness There Can be No Light".

Also in the novelization, Wallace and Susan's date is cut short because Susan gets a feeling something is wrong at the house.


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