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Mean Creek Marty Essay Contest

Mean Creek

Discussing Mean Creek (2004) is a bit of a challenge for me. It came highly recommended from another movie buff who emphasized that I avoid reading any plot summaries. Seeing the movie myself, I can agree that trying to summarize the film or give someone else an idea of what it's about would necessitate divulging certain developments that occur fairly far into the running time. The best I can do is say I will try not spoil anything, but if anything, Mean Creek is more about its characters and their behavior than the intricacies of its plot, so maybe I'm more worried about it than I should be.

Mean Creek could be described as a cross between Stand by Me and Deliverance. One day, Sam (Rory Culkin) gets beat up by middle school bully George (Josh Peck). Sam turns to his older brother Rocky (Trevor Morgan) to help get back at George, and they enlist Rocky's friends Clyde (Ryan Kelley) and Marty (Scott Mechlowicz) in a scheme to lure George on a rafting trip in the woods where they can humiliate him. Along for ride but initially not privy to the group's ulterior plan is Millie (Carly Schroeder), Sam's girlfriend. The plan eventually sets in motion, but then, things go horribly, horribly wrong.

Growing up, at best, can be a time of discovery, learning, and innocence, but as we all know, it can also be a time of cruelty, shame, and resentment. Too often, children and teenagers can act as wrong as adults, but unlike adults who should know better, kids can be unknowingly horrible to each other or at the very least oblivious to the hurt they cause. The best we can hope for is they be good most of the time and eventually grow out of the bad behavior.  Bullying is currently a hot topic in the news these days, but as the movie, shows it's not always a black-and-white scenario.

Mean Creek is a movie in which all the characters are both victims and perpetrators of mean acts. George certainly fits the category of bully. The film opens with him beating up Sam for touching his camera, bruising up his face pretty badly. He's big, loud, obnoxious, and self-centered, and we're told how he has been held back in school and hurt others apart from Sam. But then we also see at times he's like an overgrown puppy eager to please. Invited along on what he's told is Sam's birthday celebration, he brings him a gift and seems to be trying to get along. His father is apparently not in the picture (we only meet his mother), and we also learn he has some sort of learning disability (I believe it's dyslexia, but it's never stated explicitly). Nothing really excuses his behavior, but he is drawn more complexly than one would expect, and I certainly felt sorry for him. Even if things hadn't gotten wrong, the planned revenge against him would have crossed the line.

That complexity extends to the other characters, and it becomes apparent he's not the only bully figure. Marty, who is always knocking Clyde for having two gay dads, is only along for the trip as an excuse to humiliate someone he considers lesser than him. When the group decides to call off the prank, he's the only who refuses and in fact forces them to a point of no return. He drinks and smokes and always seem angry, but he too is a victim of bullying; his older brother is especially mean to him, and he's especially sensitive to talk about his father, who committed suicide. He and his brother live in a squalid trailer, and school is a less attractive option than shooting empty liquor bottles.

Even the ostensibly "good" characters have a nasty streak to them. Millie, when she learns the group's plan, is appalled and pressures to Sam to call it off, which he does. But when Marty tries to force the prank through, it is Millie who relents first when George continues to act abrasive and vulgar. Unlike George, who it could be argued doesn't know better, Millie clearly understands the cruelty she partakes in, and it's a chilling moment when she tells Marty to continue with a game of Truth or Dare to initiate the plan. It's one thing to defend the well-meaning, slow-witted fat kid who's a little rough around the edges, but when he tries peeking up your skirt with his camera, tells dirty jokes, and acts like a pig, suddenly a little payback doesn't seem so bad.

I said the movie reminded me of Deliverance (characters discovery shocking truths about themselves whilst on a rural river trip) and Stand by Me (kids in the woods making life discoveries), but in retrospect, it also draws a little from Lord of the Flies in presenting a world in which children and teenagers act without adult supervision. There is not one significant adult character in Mean Creek, and there is no effective authority stopping any of these kids from bad behavior. No teacher or principal intervenes on George's bullying, the loss of a father has surely scarred Marty to the point he takes it out on others, and no parent is ever shown keeping tabs on their kids or monitoring their activity. Without some sort of moral guidance, these teens learn the hard way about actions and consequences.

Written and directed by first-time director Jacob Aaron Estes, Mean Creek is not a thriller but a powerful and haunting drama. The performances by all the young actors (who actually look the age of the characters they portray) work extremely well, and Estes does an excellent job of capturing both these kids day-to-day lives at home and school as well as their fateful trip on the river and its fallout. It's really effective.

For the rock band, see Mean Creek (band).

Mean Creek is a 2004 American coming-of-agepsychologicaldrama film written and directed by Jacob Aaron Estes and starring Rory Culkin, Ryan Kelley, Scott Mechlowicz, Trevor Morgan, Josh Peck, and Carly Schroeder. It was produced by Susan Johnson, Rick Rosenthal, and Hagai Shaham.[3]

The film is about a group of teenagers and young adults who devise a plan to humiliate an overweight, troubled bully on a boating trip. When their plan goes too far, they have to deal with the unexpected consequences of their actions. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 15, 2004, and was later screened at the Cannes Film Festival on May 14, 2004. It was then given a limited release in major US cities on August 20, 2004, mostly playing at art house theaters.


When small and quiet Sam admits to his older brother, Rocky, that the school bully, George, has hurt him because he moved George's video camera while George was filming himself shooting baskets, Rocky tells his friends, reserved Clyde and troubled Marty, and they devise a plan for revenge. Part of the prank entails taking George on a boating trip to celebrate Sam's fictional birthday. Then, they will get him to strip in a game of truth or dare, then make him run home naked.

Sam invites his new girlfriend, Millie, along, and all six of them are driven to the river by Marty. During the ride, George reveals a different side by being genuinely pleased to be invited; the group also learns he is dyslexic. However, Sam does not tell Millie the real plan until they arrive near the river. Millie refuses to continue until Sam promises he will call the plan off, which Sam agrees to do. Sam tells his brother he wants to stop, and Rocky then tells Clyde and Marty. Although Clyde has no problem with not going through, Marty is very reluctant to not do so. Throughout the trip, George clumsily attempts to fit in with the group. Despite this, George also gets confrontational when questioned about his motives (or lack thereof) when attacking someone. The group soon realizes although George is annoying and extremely insecure, he is very lonely and just wants to be accepted and liked.

On the boat, Marty deviates from the others' plan and initiates a game of truth or dare, though the rest decide to go along with the game. After George shoots Rocky with a water gun in good fun, George makes a funny quip about Marty's father, not remembering that it is a sore subject as Marty's father killed himself years ago. This sets off Marty, who dares George to strip naked and jump in the water. When George does not comply, Marty exposes the whole plan and starts to ridicule George. Angered and humiliated, George launches into a vulgar tirade against everyone else on the boat, ending by crudely mocking Marty's dead father. Marty snaps and Rocky, in an attempt to stop the fight, accidentally pushes George off the boat. Unable to swim, George struggles to remain afloat in the water. As the others regard the scene in horror, George accidentally hits his head with his video camera and does not come to the surface. Rocky dives into the water but is unable to find George. Minutes later, George appears face down in the shallow water close to the shore. Rocky exhorts the others to help him bring George to shore, where Millie gives him CPR. The effort is in vain as George is dead.

The group is traumatized and in fear of being charged with murder. They dig a hole and bury George. Clyde's plan is to explain that it was an accident, but Marty threatens them, reminding them that George's camera (now lost in the water) has recorded Marty's taped confession of the original plan and the authorities will find out if the camera is discovered. Marty then gains the complicity of both Clyde and the rest of the group. As they had already tricked George into not telling his mother where he was going, she would not know of their involvement. At the end of the day, they all gather at Sam and Rocky's house. Sam, Rocky, Clyde, and Millie have had a change of heart and are willing to accept the consequences as opposed to having the guilt of George's death hanging over their heads. Marty refuses to turn himself in and feels betrayed. He storms out and convinces his brother to give him his gun and car. The brother again agrees to the favor, albeit reluctantly. Marty robs a gas station with the gun and drives off, becoming a fugitive. Meanwhile, the others go to George's house and confess to his mother with genuine remorse on their faces.

Sam is later seen in an interrogation room, telling the story to the police, who later find and view the tape from George's video camera. In a final scene, audio of George explaining his dream of becoming a filmmaker and documenting his life in hopes those who see it will finally understand him plays in the background. The police force, along with Sam, Rocky, and their father, and George's mother, find the location of the corpse while Sam watches the sheriff exhume George's body as George's mother cries with devastation, his face full of regret and great pain for what he, his older brother, and friends have done.



Mean Creek was originally conceived by director Jacob Aaron Estes around 1996 and 1997.[4] At the time, Estes felt that there were very few films about kids dealing with a tragedy, a genre he had always admired both as a kid and as an adult student of film.[4] The film was independently financed with a budget of $500,000, although about $350,000 of it was spent off screen or donated.[4] It was shot mostly in Clackamas County, Oregon, including the cities of Boring, Sandy, and Estacada, though footage on the river was filmed on the Lewis River in southwest Washington.[5]


Box office[edit]

Mean Creek received a limited release in North America in four theaters and grossed $29,170 with an average of $7,292 per theater. The film earned $603,951 domestically and $198,997 internationally for a total of $802,948. Based on a $500,000 budget, the film can be considered a modest box office success.[2]

Critical reception[edit]

Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports a "Certified Fresh" rating of 90%, based on 120 reviews, with an average rating of 7.3 out of 10. The consensus states "Mean Creek is an uncomfortably riveting glimpse into the casual cruelty of youth."[6] On Metacritic, the film also has a score of 74 out of 100, based on 31 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[7]

Roger Ebert praised the acting and concept of teenagers making conscious moral decisions and wrote "Mean Creek joins a small group of films including River's Edge and Bully which deal accurately and painfully with the consequences of peer-driven behavior. Kids who would not possibly act by themselves form groups that cannot stop themselves. This movie would be an invaluable tool for moral education in schools, for discussions of situational ethics and refusing to go along with the crowd."[8]

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