Mystic River is a film. It is also just that, a river which runs through Boston.
Growing up in Glasgow, our river, the Clyde, was something you’d turn your back on; the city itself seemed to shun it. Very few were the vantage points from which you could catch a glimpse and those glimpses were never less than desolate – broken wasteland and gutted shipyards. You’d snatch a glance from the train and look away, loathe to remember what our city used to be and how the river had made it.
The Bostonians in Mystic River, however, don’t have that problem with their river. They can’t help but be drawn to it. Its vistas demand their attention, and its depths may perhaps wash away their sins.
Mystic River is a Clint Eastwood film, and perhaps one of the finest of this fledgling century.
It is the story of a working class neighbourhood (this in itself makes it remarkable – when, for instance, was the last time you heard an American politician use the phrase ‘working class’?).
Three boys are playing hockey in the street, it’s the sixties, kids still played out back then. The cocky one suggests writing their name in a newly laid patch of concrete. ‘Jimmy’ goes first, then ‘Sean’, ‘Dave’ is half way through when a car pulls up and a guy gets out. He’s a cop, or so he says, and he drags Dave away for vandalising municipal property.
He isn’t a cop; Dave manages to escape after four days of sexual abuse. But he doesn’t escape, not really. No one in this film does.
Twenty five years later, Jimmy (Sean Penn) is a former hood, turned good (so he thinks). He has a corner shop and a family. He’s doing alright, although Penn makes it clear he’s always waiting for the sirens.
Sean (Kevin Bacon) is State police and Dave (Tim Robbins) is a wreck – still back in the woods escaping his abusers.
Jimmy’s beloved daughter is murdered; no reason, no clear suspect. The cops come in of course but Jimmy decides his old gang can find the killer faster and…shall we say…serve better justice themselves.
What unfolds is probably nothing short of a Jacobean tragedy. By the end the wrong man is dead and the real killers have been found – they’re kids, it was a stupid prank gone wrong. The nature of the crime just doesn’t seem to match the gravity of the grief.
Meanwhile, the wrong guy has been cast away into the murky depths.
Heraclitus, commenting on his philospohy of eternal flux, supported it by naming the example of a river. You’re never looking at the same one twice, because it’s always moving.
Well the waters of the Mystic – as with all rivers – are always moving.
But in the final frames of this film, the river itself is still there, silent and implacable, and mocking your notions of justice.