Stoker (2013)

Good acting, great direction and tasteful photography, often focusing on atypical elements in the frame. The slow-paced plot unveils rather that twists.

I liked the morbid duality in behavior and dialogue of the main characters. I liked how it provoked thoughts around the meaning of life. Specifically, the opening monologue and the Mother’s monologue on having children. Both scenes put a prism on the plot to give it a wider, less literal meaning. I was intrigued by almost constant innuendo, very subtle at the start and increasingly obvious while the events of the story unfold.

Surprises

  • This movie is not on Bram Stoker which I suspected was the case. It’s the family name of the characters in the movie.
  • Written by Wentworth Miller of “Prison Break” fame. Interestingly he also played with Nicole Kidman in a similarly grim and slow-paced movie “The Human Stain”.
  • All of India’s outfits are symmetrical, while her mother’s are asymmetrical.

stok·er (stō′kər)

n.

  1. One who is employed to feed fuel to and tend a furnace, as on a steam locomotive or a steamship.
  2. A mechanical device for feeding coal to a furnace.

Plot

The opening scene is a girl leaving a convertible car in the middle of nowhere, watching flowers in the field on the side of the road. She says: “My ears hear what others cannot hear; small faraway things people cannot normally see are visible to me. These senses are the fruits of a lifetime of longing, longing to be rescued, to be completed. Just as the skirt needs the wind to billow, I’m not formed by things that are of myself alone. I wear my father’s belt tied around my mother’s blouse, and shoes which are from my uncle. This is me. Just as a flower does not choose its color, we are not responsible for what we have come to be. Only once you realize this do you become free, and to become adult is to become free.”

India Stoker is a girl with a strong acuteness of the senses, she likes everything ordered around her, and is often seen still and straight, wearing simple, monochrome, symmetrical clothes.

On her 18th birthday she has her life turned upside down after her loving father dies in a horrific car accident. India is then left with her unstable mother. At the father’s funeral, the mother and India are introduced to the father’s charming and charismatic younger brother Charlie, who has spent his life traveling the world. He then announces that he is staying indefinitely to help support India and the mother, much to mother’s delight and India’s chagrin.

Shortly after Charlie moves in, India witnesses him argue with the head caretaker of the house who then disappears. Charlie and the mother grow closer and intimate while India continues to rebuff Charlie’s attempts to befriend her. Later, India’s great aunt arrives to visit the family, much to the mother’s and Charlie’s dismay. At dinner, the aunt shows surprise at Charlie’s claims of traveling the world and tells the mother that she needs to talk to her about Charlie.

The aunt ends up changing hotels due to an unexplained fear and suspicion of Charlie. However, she loses her cell phone and tries to call the Stokers’ home from her hotel payphone. While she is making her call, Charlie tracks her down. He corners her in the phone booth, and strangles her to death with his belt. Meanwhile, India goes into the basement to eat ice cream and discovers the house caretaker’s body in the freezer. She realizes Charlie is a murderer.

Later, India unleashes her inner aggression at school and stabs a bully in the hand with a pencil after he tries to land a surprise punch to her head. This draws the attention of another classmate, Whip. India goes home and later witnesses her mother and Charlie kissing and groping and wanders off to a local diner where she runs into Whip. She and Whip go into the woods where they proceed to make out until India aggressively bites him. Whip then attempts to rape India until Charlie intervenes, and breaks Whip’s neck with his belt. India then aids Charlie in burying the body in her garden. She attempts to secretly call her aunt, but hears her phone ring deep in the garden, realizing Charlie killed her, too. India takes a shower, crying when reliving the events in the forest, which evolves into her masturbating to the memory of the murder. She climaxes as she remembers Charlie breaking Whip’s neck.

India’s mother plans to redo her late husband’s office because of painful memories it brings. Among them are countless stuffed trophies from India’s and her father’s hunting trips. India decides to keep some and discovers that a key she received as a birthday present belongs to a locked drawer to her father’s desk. Inside, she finds a gun and dozens of letters Charlie wrote to her over the years, which detail his travels and express his love for his niece, although they have never met. She is moved while reading them but eventually discovers that the sending address on the back of the envelopes is from a mental institution. India then confronts Charlie, who explains the truth: Charlie and her father had a younger brother. Charlie murdered him as a child because he was jealous that his older brother paid more attention to him. Charlie was then put in a mental institution. He decided to stay there until India’s 18th birthday. Upon release, her father gave Charlie a convertible, a generous amount of money, and an apartment in New York City on the condition that he stay away from India’s family. Feeling hurt and betrayed, Charlie beat India’s father to death with a rock and staged the car accident.

India slaps Charlie but seemingly forgives him and grows closer after he presents her with reptile leather high heels. At some point he plays a piano piece with her, and the music, the rhythm and his subtle touch lead her to orgasm. Later he provides an alibi for her when the Sheriff questions her about Whip’s disappearance. They almost kiss before India’s mother witnesses them. Later that evening, the mother coldly says: “You know, I’ve often wondered why it is we have children in the first place. And the conclusion I’ve come to is… At some point in our lives we realize things are screwed up beyond repair. So we decide to start again. Wipe the slate clean. Start fresh. And then we have children. Little carbon copies we can turn to and say, “You will do what I could not. You will succeed where I have failed.” Because we want someone to get it right this time. But not me… Personally speaking I can’t wait to watch life tear you apart.”

Then she confronts Charlie, implying that she knows the truth about her husband’s death. Charlie seduces her and then attempts to strangle her before India appears and fatally shoots Charlie with a rifle. She then buries Charlie’s body in the backyard and proceeds to leave for New York in his convertible.

She is shortly pulled over for speeding by the Sheriff. India reveals that she wanted to catch his attention, then plunges a pair of pruning shears into his neck. India pursues the wounded sheriff into a field to dispatch him with her rifle. She watches flowers in the field and this time it becomes clear they are not naturally red, but rather sprinkled with Sheriff’s blood.

Observations

It’s India’s behavior that leads her mother to instability. At some point in the movie the mother asks: “India, who are you? You were supposed to love me, weren’t you?”

India’s father either prepared her to defend herself against Charlie, or tried to use the hunting trips as ways to channel the inner aggression he noticed in his daughter. Maybe both.

The movie tries to depict the murderers as very intelligent. Charlie has a big bookshelf in the asylum and writes long elaborate letters to India. India is shown painting details of the still nature that others cannot see. She makes witty observations and can usually sense other people’s intentions. Whip might be one counter-example but then again maybe not. However, both characters make basic and grave mistakes in their murders. They do not cover their tracks well at all. Especially the murder of Charlie is an obvious mess left by India, and the murder of the Sheriff will inevitably lead to this case getting much more serious attention.

Then again, maybe this is to show that even though they are highly rational and intelligent otherwise, their urges blind their ability to be reasonable. Examples: Charlie murdering his younger brother and not emphathizing with the suffering he’s causing. Charlie murdering his older brother who loves him and is loved. Charlie murdering the home caregiver who over the years smuggled birthday presents to India (shoes). Charlie leaving the cell phone on on his aunt’s body while burying her. India murdering the Sheriff.

There are stones and other pieces resembling sculptures/monuments in the Stoker garden. Later it’s revealed the murderers essentially use them as tombstones. You might wonder if the others hold more bodies underneath.

The “stoker” definition suggests that the role of psychotic murderers in society is to spark more change, to accelerate progress by forcing society out of local maximums, or by keeping it on its toes. However, the characters in the movie mostly murder for self-preservation, so the utility of those crimes for the larger society remains low or negative.