Today’s psycho comes to us in a wonderful sleeper film titled simply Mr. Brooks. Earl Brooks (played by Kevin Costner) is the man of the year; he’s a great husband, and he’s a loving father. He also just happens to be addicted to killing people. This film touches on the addiction concept briefly, but doesn’t linger because there’s far too much other juicy stuff to explore. He is not alone on his exploration…he has an imaginary friend (so to speak) in Marshall (played by the delightful William Hurt). Throw into the mix another character named Mr. Smith (played by Dane Cook) who is blackmailing Mr. Brooks to take him along on his killing sprees and teach him how to do it and you’ve got an excellent triumvirate of evil, and a great reason for talking about Freud’s division of the human mind.
According to Sigmund Freud, the mind was divided into three parts: the Id, the Ego, and the Superego. In this narrative we see a literal realization of those parts interacting. The Id is all impulse and desire, and it wants those desires gratified immediately. It has no moral sense. All it wants is pleasure. It pressures the conscious mind into giving it what it wants and then releasing that pressure when it gets what it wants. In this narrative, that is Mr. Smith. Smith blackmails Mr. Brooks to get what he wants. That’s a kind of pressure he deploys to gratify what he wants. He has photos he took of Mr. Brooks implicating him as the Thumbprint Killer. He threatens Mr. Brooks with exposure if his desires are not gratified. Mr. Smith is all ID in this film. We see him pout when he doesn’t get his way…another kind of pressure. We see him throwing tantrums when Mr. Brooks denies him immediate gratification by putting off the act of murder. The ID is driven by sexuality and aggression. We see both of these in Mr. Smith as he is quite a voyeur and documents the sex acts of his neighbors regularly. There’s no moral dilemma he struggles with when it comes to what he is asking for. There’s no thought of consequences at all. It’s just pure desire.
Mr. Brooks is always in control. It’s part of what has made him a success in his business and probably what led to him being named man of the year. He is methodical in approach to killing. It’s never about passion or emotion. It’s all about the thrill which has led to it becoming an addiction. He is meticulous in his execution of his executions. Every detail is planned. When the cop chasing after him is explaining his M.O. to another cop, she points to a vacuum cleaner and says, “I bet you there’s not a vacuum cleaner bag in there. He always vacuums the house after his crimes.” She opens it up and proves herself correct. The other cop says, “What if he killed someone who didn’t have a vacuum cleaner?” to which she replies, “He wouldn’t do that.” Once again proving his crimes are methodical and not passion based. It’s Mr. Brooks’ experience that is used to control Mr. Smith. He never loses patience with Mr. Smith. He teaches him what he knows in a very creepy mentoring kind of way. But he is in control of the Id making him the Ego.
Now we come to the most complex character…Marshall. First, I love that his name is Marshall, which means ‘to guide’. That cracks me up because Marshall is almost a cheerleader for Mr. Brooks’ killing sprees. The job of the Superego is the keeper of the Moral Consciousness. It’s supposed to be the guardian of our sense of right and wrong. Marshall is one messed up Superego in that sense. He councils Mr. Brooks in fulfilling his addiction of killing, but also is a voice of reason. He’s very intellectual and extremely articulate in matters of right and wrong. They just don’t match up to what civilized sociality would deem right and wrong. The Superego is a collection of these morals accumulated from Parents, Communities, Religion, Society. Marshall seems to have developed his own moral code and it’s that code by which he councils Mr. Brooks.
In that sense of battling for control between Mr. Smith’s desires and Marshall’s messed up moral code, it becomes Mr. Brooks’ job to mediate between the two. And THAT is the narrative we see unfold. It’s never a moral struggle, for Marshall and Mr. Brooks or Mr. Smith, of whether killing is right or wrong. Mr. Brooks knows it’s wrong. Marshall knows it’s wrong. But they both know it has become an addiction. Mr. Brooks has managed to stop for two years by going to AA meetings. We have seen time and time again the destructive nature of addiction to ruin a life. Here it’s not drugs or alcohol, but the thrill of killing that has taken over Mr. Brooks. The ironic twist is that he discovers that whatever this “thing” is in him, his daughter has inherited making for an even more twisted narrative.
I can’t give any more away without spoiling the movie, so I’ll stop there. As a visual depiction of the Freud’s tripartite mind, this film is an excellent example of that struggle. Give it a watch and tell me what you think!