The Good Son (film)

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The Good Son
The Good Son (movie poster).jpg
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
Edited 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 $60.6 million

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


Twelve year old Mark Evans (Elijah Wood) has recently experienced the death of his mom, Janice (Ashley Crow). Having been assigned for a business trip in Tokyo, Mark is taken by his dad, Jack (David Morse), to stay with his uncle Wallace (Daniel Hugh Kelly) and aunt Susan (Wendy Crewson) in Maine. Mark is introduced to his extended family, including his cousins Connie (Quinn Culkin) and Henry (Macaulay Culkin). Mark and Henry get along at first, and Henry seems to be 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 soon displays increasingly psychopathic behavior, which Mark is unable to tell Wallace and Susan about due to Henry's dark threats. One of Henry's acts includes throwing a dummy off of a freeway overpass which causes a pileup.

Later, Henry plans he will try to kill his sister. Terrified that something might 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 toward 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, who has been sitting in the dark out of view, interrupts him.

Susan finds a rubber duck that 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. He asks for the rubber duck back, but Susan refuses, and Henry tries to take it from her. After a violent tug-of-war, Henry takes the toy and escapes to the cemetery where he throws it down a well, indicating that Richard meant nothing to him.

As Susan and Mark grow closer, Henry insinuates he will kill Susan rather than let Mark continue to develop a relationship with her. When a fight breaks out between the two boys, 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. Henry indirectly replies, "What if I did?"

Horrified by what her son has become, Susan tells Henry that he needs help, but Henry flees into the woods. Susan gives chase, and upon arriving at a cliff, Henry shoves her over the edge. As Susan dangles precariously, Henry picks up a large rock he intends to throw down at her, but Mark intervenes and tackles his cousin, and they fight while Susan climbs back up. In the ensuing brawl, the boys roll off the cliff but are caught by Susan. She arduously hangs onto both boys, each with one hand. Henry holds on with both hands, but Mark's one-handed grip begins to slip. With only enough strength to save one of them, Susan notes her son's icy-calm demeanor, confident that his mother will save him. However, Susan, now aware of her son's deeply evil nature, reluctantly releases him from her grasp and he falls to his death. Susan pulls Mark up from the ledge, and they look down upon Henry's body on the rocks below, before it is washed away into the sea. Susan and Mark share an emotional embrace.

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


  • Macaulay Culkin as Henry Evans, Mark's psychopathic cousin, who displays a fascination with death and weapons and insinuates to kill his family.
  • Elijah Wood as Mark Evans. After his mother passes away, he is sent to Maine to stay with his aunt and uncle while his father is away on a business trip.
  • Wendy Crewson as Susan Evans, Mark's aunt.
  • David Morse as Jack Evans, Mark's father.
  • Daniel Hugh Kelly as Wallace Evans, Mark's uncle and Jack's older brother.
  • Jacqueline Brookes as Alice Davenport, a child psychologist.
  • Quinn Culkin as Connie Evans, Henry's little sister whom he despises out of jealousy.
  • Ashley Crow as Janice Evans, Jack's wife and Mark's mother.


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 The 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 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.[1]

Critical reception[edit]

The film received 24% overall score on Rotten Tomatoes.[2] Roger Ebert, who deemed the film inappropriate for children, awarded it half a star, calling the project a "creepy, unpleasant experience".[3] He and Gene Siskel later gave it "Two Thumbs Down":[4]

Box office[edit]

The Good Son earned 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.[5][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 psychopath, 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 Lao Tzu's quote: "Without Darkness, there can be no Light" as an epitaph.

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


External links[edit]