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The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags are used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.
For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for Mystic River can be found here.
When 19-year-old Katie Markum (Emmy Rossum), daughter of Boston shop-owner Jimmy Markum (Sean Penn), is brutally murdered, Jimmy is reunited with two childhood friends—Sean Devine (Kevin Bacon), who is the detective investigating the case, and Dave Boyle (Tim Robbins), who was abducted off the street and sexually abused for four days when the boys were 11 years old. As the case unfolds, it looks more and more like Dave is the murderer.
Mystic River (2001) was written by American author Dennis Lehane and adapted for the screen by American screenwriter Brian Helgeland.
At the beginning of the movie, Dave, Jimmy, and Sean were depicted as young boys playing in the street. A policeman comes along and takes Dave away with him. The "policeman" is actually a pedophile. Days later, when Dave finally escapes, he is marked by everyone in the neighborhood as "damaged goods." After that, it becomes easy to blame Dave for doing criminal things to others, based on the erroneous assumption that "what goes around comes around." Dave never got counseling to cope with the event; he hasn't even told his wife Celeste (Marcia Gay Harden). On the night of the murder, Dave comes home with a bloodied hand and a knife wound to his chest. He comes up with a story about a mugger. Celeste becomes suspicious when she cannot find any mention of a wounded mugger in the newspapers. This becomes worse when she hears Dave give different statements as to the cause of his hand injury. His increasing mental instability starts to frighten her to the point where she shares her suspicions with Jimmy, which ultimately leads to Dave being fingered in Katie's death.
The Mystic River is the name of a river in Boston. It's name comes from a Wampanoag word meaning "big river." Jimmy tells Dave, "We bury our sins here [in the Mystic River], Dave. We wash them clean," so some viewers see something more "mystical" in the title and have likened it metaphorically to karma, that is, what-goes-around-comes-around. The author hasn't admitted much more than that he liked the name of the river and the various meanings it could have.
Connect "stupid" and "kids", and behold the answer. They were trying to cover up the murder by making it look like they were just the good guys reporting their suspicion that a murder had been committed. Besides, it was a setup to the pivotal point in the movie when a cop thinks to ask, "How did they know it was a woman?"
This question has raised considerable discussion. Most viewers point out that Dave was drunk and wasn't thinking fast. Others feel that Dave wasn't certain the pedophile was dead or that his body was still there behind McGill's. It is also pointed out that Jimmy was in anguish over Katie's murder. The Savage brothers had convinced him that Dave was guilty (even though Dave kept trying to convince Jimmy that he killed a pedophile, not Katie). When Jimmy told Dave that he would kill him if he didn't confess to killing Katie, Dave saw that as a way to escape with his life, so he confessed to a crime that he didn't commit. Unfortunately, Jimmy went back on his word.
Originally the police believe that Katie's death has something to do with her secret relationship with Brendan Harris (Tom Guiry) and suspect that Brendan's father "Just Ray" Harris might have killed Katie because he had a bad past with Jimmy. They had discovered that the gun used to shoot Katie had once been used in a robbery by Just Ray. What turns out to have happened was that Brendan's brother, Ray Harris Jr, (Spencer Treat Clark) had found his father's gun and that he and a friend decided to have some fun with it. They were scaring motorists with it by pointing the gun at them as they passed by. Katie happened to be driving by and crashed the car when she saw the gun. The two boys went over to check on her at which point she recognized Ray as her boyfriend's brother. At some point the gun went off, wounding Katie, and she fled into the park (Brendan even suggested that Ray Jr. may have had some motive to shoot Katie, since she was going to take Brendan away from him to Las Vegas). Afraid of the consequences, the two boys followed Katie and killed her to keep from talking.
Sean locates a drunk and disheveled Jimmy sitting on the curb of a sidewalk and informs him that they caught the boys who killed Katie. He also tells Jimmy that the Boston police found the body of a pedophile in the woods behind McGills and they would like to talk with Dave. "The last time I saw Dave Boyle," Jimmy says, "was 25 years ago going up the street in the back of a car." In that moment, Sean realizes that Jimmy has killed Dave but allows him to walk away, taking a phone call from his wife Lauren (Tori Davis) who talks with him for the first time and agrees to come home. The next day, as the sounds of the parade fill the neighborhood streets, Jimmy confesses to wife Annabeth (Laura Linney) that he killed Dave and threw his body in the Mystic. Annabeth assures him that it's never wrong to do whatever you have to do for those you love. Later, at the parade, Dave's wife Celeste looks anxiously at the faces of Sean and Jimmy, but they reveal nothing. When Sean sees Jimmy, he mimics shooting him with a finger gun. Jimmy just shrugs as the parade rolls by, and the Mystic River rolls on.
The ending is left open. Some viewers interpret the scene during the parade where Sean makes a gun with his fingers and points it at Jimmy as saying, "I'm gonna get you." Jimmy's shrug is then interpreted as him saying either "Try, if you can," or "I know you will...eventually." From the novel:
Sean felt Lauren idly caress his arm, and he looked across the street at Jimmy. If it took him the rest of his life, he was going to bring him down. "You see me, Jimmy? Come on. Look over again." And Jimmy's head swiveled. He smiled at Sean. Sean raised his hand, the index finger pointing out, the thumb cocked like the hammer of a gun, and then he dropped the thumb and fired. Jimmy's smile broadened.
One movie that viewers have mentioned as being similar to Mystic River is Summer of Sam (1999), in which a punk rocker is almost beaten to death when his "friends" conclude that he must be the serial killer known as "Son of Sam", who is terrorizing their section of the Bronx. Thematically very similar is Gone Baby Gone, another crime story set in Boston, also by writer Dennis Lehane.
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