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
Music by Elmer Bernstein
Cinematography John Lindley
Edited by George Bowers
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date
  • 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 written by English novelist Ian McEwan. The film stars Macaulay Culkin and Elijah Wood.


12-year-old Mark Evans (Elijah Wood) has recently experienced the death of his mother, Janice (Ashley Crow). Heading for a business trip to Tokyo, Mark's father Jack (David Morse) drives Mark to the home of his uncle Wallace (Daniel Hugh Kelly) and aunt Susan (Wendy Crewson) in Maine where he will stay during the winter break. Mark is reintroduced 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 nice and well-mannered. However, Henry displays an abnormal fascination with death and his talk of the death of Mark's mother and that of his younger brother Richard, makes Mark feel uneasy.

Henry begins to display psychopathic behavior, which Mark is unable to tell Wallace and Susan about due to Henry's dark threats. One of Henry's violent actions is to throw a dummy off a bridge and on to the highway, causing a massive pileup. Later, Henry plans to kill his sister Connie. Afraid that something might happen to her, 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 Connie toward thin ice. The ice collapses and Connie nearly drowns but is rescued and taken to hospital. Susan becomes suspicious and sitting in the dark, out of view, is able to interrupt Henry when he visits Connie's room, planning to smother her.

Susan finds a rubber duck that Henry has hidden in the 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 that the toy had belonged to him before it had been Richard's. He asks for the duck back but Susan refuses and Henry tries to take it from her. After a violent tug-of-war, Henry snatches the duck and runs to the cemetery where he throws it down a well. 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 confronts Henry, asking him if he killed his brother. Henry 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. They fight and Henry viciously tries his best to kill Mark. Susan manages to pull herself up on to the clifftop and is just in time to dive forward and grab hold of the boys as they roll over the edge. Lying flat on the rock she hangs on to both boys, one in each 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 choose to save him. However, Susan, realizing the malevolence in Henry's nature, reluctantly releases him 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. 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.


  • Elijah Wood as Mark Evans. A 12-year-old boy. 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.
  • Macaulay Culkin as Henry Evans, Mark's psychopathic cousin.
  • 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.
  • 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. The movie never fully elaborates on why Henry is the way he is, a void the novel fills.

The part of the film wherein Henry turns off the house's lights while Wallace and Susan are out on a dinner date is slightly different. For example, when Henry offers to take Connie to her bedroom and is rebuked by his sister, chosing Mark take her, Henry doesn't just calmly look around the room, humming to himself. Instead, as Mark and Connie are heading down the hall, they hear a crash, as if Henry kicked over a chair in a fit of rage. Susan cuts the dinner date short because of a feeling that something is wrong at the house.

In the novel, Henry's mother Susan eventually realises that Henry is unable to feel emotions like love and sorrow, and that cold, single-minded selfishness, and pleasure derived from tormenting others are some of the only things he feels. The book also concludes differently from the movie, ending with Mark returning to Uncle Wallace and Aunt Susan'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.


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