Movie Review: Indie Film "Mean Creek" - An Exploration of the Id, Ego, and Super-ego and The Inner Workings of the Adolescent Mind

Stephen Arch                              sparch@comcast.net              www.sparch@facebook.com

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So many novels out there to read and so many movies to watch. Every time I venture into a book store and want to pick up a new novel by an established contemporary writer or an up-and-coming novelist, I am drawn to the classic collection to explore older novels, plays, poetry collections that I have yet to read. The same can be said for my choice in cinema. When choosing a movie to watch, I more times than not tend to drift back to something older that I haven't seen before. This causes its own set of problems because I admit the past does hold me back from experiencing many new and interesting works that seem to arrive daily.

That said, my Netflix cache is filled with movies that will take me a year to watch, and then I continue to add movies to the cache. This endless stream of movies tends to distract me from going out for a nice evening at the local movie theater.

  George (Josh Peck)

George (Josh Peck)

It turns out that on Friday or Saturday nights, my wife and I like to explore this collection and view a movie we may not even have heard about when it was released. It usually is fun to watch, mostly indie films, that may not even have made it to the big screen and went directly to DVD.

Last week, we chose the 2004, $500,000 budgeted Mean Creek (Mean Creek Productions) written and directed by Jacob Aaron Estes and filmed in the wilds of Oregon.

  Sammy (Rory Culkin)

Sammy (Rory Culkin)

This low budget yet fascinating film has an ensemble cast starring Rory Culkin (Macaulay's younger brother), Ryan Kelley, Scott Mechlowicz, Trevor Morgan, Josh Peck, Carly Schroeder, and Branden Williams.

This small budget film didn't receive any major awards, yet did receive exceptional reviews from many of the highly important festivals (Cannes and Sundance).

The plot is relatively simple, making it more of a psychological drama than an action packed piece. If you are looking for stimulation, this isn't the movie for you. It can be slow moving, but it is this snail's pace that forces the viewer time to try to understand what could possibly be going on in the minds of these teens.

  Rocky (Trevor Morgan)

Rocky (Trevor Morgan)

If what goes on in the minds of coming of age adolescents and the way they make decisions, unsettling, and requires a whole heap of "what is going to happen next?" or "what other really stupid decision will these teens make?" interests you, then this movie is for you. If you are a parent of a teenager, this movie is definitely a must see. One of those "we didn't mean for it to get so out of control" moments most parents hear at least once in the lives of their children. Warning. This is not a "fun" movie. It is psychologically enticing (and, the best part, there are no gratuitously violent and bloody scenes about which to worry).

  Millie (Carly Schroeder)

Millie (Carly Schroeder)

  Marty (Scott Mechlowicz)

Marty (Scott Mechlowicz)

Basically, the plot deals with the way older brother, Rocky (Trevor Morgan) and his friends plan to embarrass the school bully - overweight and isolated George (Josh Peck) - who has just beaten his younger brother Sammy (Culkin) at school. The teens have something to prove. Sammy is an eighth grader, and along with his girlfriend Millie (Schroeder), is very sensitive and doesn't want to actually hurt anyone - which is a mistake when he involves his older brother Rocky and his ne'er-do-well friends who have their own not only adolescent issues, but psychological issues themselves. George is a loner high school student who has a mental disability that has prevented him from moving out of high school. He is roughly the same age as the older Rocky, Clyde, and Marty (which angers the older friends because of George's inability to control his emotions, which results in his bullying younger the kids).

Marty (Scott Mecholowicz), an extremely troubled youth whose father committed suicide and has no real moral compass due to the obvious lack of parental guidance which comes only from his older brother Kyle (Branden Williams), who himself is out of control and solves his brother's behavior problems by beating his smacking his brother around and using violence to "teach" Kyle discipline. The way he solves his own problems.

The creek (actually a small river) is the primary setting of "the plot" to embarrass George and get the best of him for his bullying of Sammy. Rocky, Marty, and Clyde (Ryan Kelley) - who also has an entire host of familial and social issues - plot a boat ride down the river that goes entirely wrong. And, when trouble does come the teens' way, malfunctioning Marty, the group's leader, is absolutely the wrong person to call the shots. The teens look to Marty, who is left to be the decision maker on how to clean up the mess the teens have caused.

The entire movie is filled with decisions that a group of teens is highly incapable of handling; yet, they "try their hardest" to do the right thing, which, ultimately, is a collection of "wrong things" that grow as the movie moves along.

This 90 minute movie, which appears longer at points, is riveting because of its attempts to get into the minds and the reasoning behind the extremely bad decisions these teens make.

My wife noted halfway through the movie that there was a noticeable absence of parents (who are rarely seen throughout the movie). That is exactly the point. These teens are left to handle their own problems due to the teens desire to be independent and do things on their own, which ultimately does not work.

Mean Creek is a must see movie. Again, as in most movies that I really think are important, deal with the psychological movements within a group of adolescents. Estes does a more than adequate job in creating the bonds that exist among this group, and he puts on full display the needs of young people to keep secrets. Agree with him or not, Sigmund Freud could have written this drama which hammers away at the id, the ego, and the super-ego in developing minds. That's why I like this movie so much:  it demonstrates the learnings of growing minds and then allows you to draw conclusions about how each character as a single human being and then as each character as a part of a group make decisions based on their base instincts, their moral compasses, and their ability, or inability in most cases, to introduce the super-ego which controls these base instincts.

It also shows that teenagers - adolescents - have not changed over the years. This movie could have been made yesterday, today, and in the future. Teens, growing up, the events that shape their instinctual moral development all the while avoiding the "right" thing to do (which, in this case, understanding that all actions have consequences, some severe) and who do not feel the need to consult an adult who might shed a different light on a situation form the central theme of this movie. Again, like most "coming of age" themed movies, it takes a tragedy to force young people to conclusions that should have been foreseen had they had the experience and the guidance they so much need.