The family unit, which some people use for support, can as easily be an accelerant as a place to go for help and support. Sometimes we don't know exactly why we do the cruel things we do, the "wrong things." Human beings are skilled at justifying whatever we've done or plan to do. While it's certainly not an excuse, we all have many reasons for our behavior, some of which are examined here along with their consequences. Be advised this is a mature movie. If you're easily offended, you may want to skip it.
"The Vicious Kind" opens on Caleb (Adam Scott) struggling to keep his composure, smoking a cigarette, alone at a diner table. He appears to be struggling not to cry, when his younger brother, Peter (Alex Frost) joins him, changing his mood entirely. Caleb changes to a cynical matter of fact tone and tells Peter:
"You know they're all whores, right? All of 'em. I'm not just talking about the little skanks that hang out around your dorm, or frat, or whatever. But actually every woman you've ever known, and every woman you'll ever meet - Mom, Grandma, Aunt Ellen. The fact that they're related to us doesn't make any difference. Cause at the end of the day, given the right set of events, they will fuck you over. For the sole reason that they have a vagina, and they can."
He references Peter's lack of experience, wishing he'd had a couple girlfriend's in high school as getting his heart broken by one of them is "nothing a night of heavy drinking wouldn't take care of." Peter defends his girlfriend, saying:
Peter: She's a good girl, Caleb.
Caleb: Mhm, tell me where you met her again.
Peter: Now don't do that.
Caleb: Do What?
Peter: What you're doing. Like you forgot already.
Caleb: No, I know where you met her. I just mean, you know, give me all the details like we're getting our fuckin nails done or something. What's the problem.
Peter: How much further do we have to go?
Caleb insists that he isn't paying for breakfast unless Peter tells the story. Peter reveals that he met her while she was at his frat house seeing her boyfriend. Caleb asks what his friends had to say about it, mentioning that Peter's roommate, Pierre, told him she sleeps around. Caleb claims he's asking just to prove Pierre wrong, but soon points out that she cheated on her boyfriend to be with Peter. Peter gets tired of hearing it and asks for the keys to Caleb's truck, which Caleb claims is rude, but gives him a set of keys anyway. Peter says that Caleb's been rude since he picked him up, and heads to the truck. Caleb then speaks rudely to the waitress and has another cup of coffee, leaving Peter to wait outside in the cold with the wrong set of keys.
Once in the truck, Peter asks Caleb how long it's been since he slept. Caleb tells him about a week, and when Peter asks how safe it is to be in the truck, Caleb answers "I'm not gonna lie to you Peter, it's not that safe." They stop at Peter's girlfriend, Emma's (Brittany Snow) house to pick her up. Emma tries for a nice introduction but Caleb dismisses her effort. Peter asks if she would rather have the window seat to spare her from Caleb, but she says it's fine. Caleb smugly reminds them that he can hear them talking as he's only four feet away. They get in, with Emma in the middle seat and Peter at the passenger window. Emma has to lift one of her legs over the stick shift and Caleb remarks "Wow, you're pretty good at that." Emma and Peter ignore the comment and Caleb makes a suggestive move with the stick shift, which they also ignore. Caleb puts his arm behind Emma on the back of the seat and makes a show of correcting himself. Peter is annoyed, and rather than confront the issue, scolds Caleb for smoking in the truck. Emma says it's fine, but Peter insists, saying he knows she doesn't like it. Caleb throws out his cigarette.
Caleb talks with Emma about her parent's home, asking who the architect was, and then saying he builds homes, implying that he is or was an architect. Peter, annoyed, corrects him,stating that he's a construction worker.They argue over the semantics of Caleb's statement, until Emma asks if Caleb's joining them for Thanksgiving. He tells her that he doesn't get along with his father and will only be dropping them off at his house. Caleb starts smoking in the truck again when Emma and Peter fall asleep.When they reach the house he makes a point of parking a long way away from it, telling them as they leave, that if they need anything to "ask that fucking asshole Donald."
Donald (J.K. Simmons) is happy to see Peter and makes some remarks to him while Emma is setting the table.
Donald: You weren't kidding there boyo, she's like a little angel! A dark angel really,which is kind of sexy in a way.
Peter: Dad, please. Not everybody's as deaf as you are OK? She'll hear you.
Donald: So what. You think a young lady like that doesn't like hearing how goddamn gorgeous she is? Shit, you oughtta tell it to her every ten minutes. I bet she's a tiger in bed.Huh?
Peter: Dad! I don't really feel comfortable with you asking me about that.
Peter is clearly having a hard time dealing with these remarks so Donald changes the subject, telling Peter he's proud of him. Peter asks him to be nice to her. Sitting down for dinner, Donald takes every opportunity to tell her how pretty she is. Peter changes the subject to Emma's good grades.
That night when everyone's in bed,Emma gets up and sneaks a cigarette. Caleb is at his own place, lying in bed alone, when he gets a phone call, in which the caller doesn't speak. He knows it's his ex girlfriend who has a few similarities to Emma, most notably the short black hair style. He tells her to stop calling and "torturing him" Rather than go to sleep,he calls a prostitute, who lets him take pictures of them having sex, which he drops off at his ex girlfriend's house in the morning. We see her looking at the pictures, which feature Caleb sticking up his middle finger in the midst of the act.
We next find Caleb at work. His coworker and friend, J.T. (Vittorio Brahm) comments on Caleb hitting nails too hard and mentions that the girls on the Spanish channel are hot, before telling him how he used to watch Elvira. Caleb gives him a hard time for saying stupid things saying "Do you ever think about the things you say, and think, I should definitely kill myself?"
At Donald's house, Donald is sitting at his typewriter working on his latest book,when Emma and Peter are leaving to go bowling. Donald makes a comment in front of Emma about Peter's clean cut clothes, saying "Is Andy Rooney dressing you now?" getting a laugh from Emma. Donald insists that Peter use his bowling shoes and it's revealed that Donald was kicked off the bowling league. He explains "The league president is a total faggot okay? Now,I say one thing, I mean literally one thing, as a joke, and I get thrown out of the league."
He continues, "I'm not a homophobe. Do I look like a homophobe? I love the gays. I mean, not...." Peter cuts him off and they head to the bowling alley where Caleb is bowling on a team with J.T.
Caleb notices Peter and Emma having a good time with each other. When J.T. notices Caleb watching them, he asks "Is that Hannah" noticing Emma's similarity to Caleb's ex. Caleb gets angry and threatens J.T. to shut up. He then insults J.T. when he remarks that it's Caleb's turn and they're in the "sixth inning" He tells him it's the "sixth frame." and then throws away his ball before storming off.
He then runs into Emma taking a walk. She asks if he wants to join them, but he explains he's in a league match. Making conversation, he asks Emma, why Peter is "dressing like Mike Wallace." She laughs and tells him that his Dad said something about it too. He tries to leave, but Emma asks if she can get a couple cigarettes from him. Caleb is surprised,thinking from the ride in the truck that she doesn't like cigarette smoke.She explains that Peter is the one who has a problem with it. She also tells him that Peter doesn't know she smokes. Caleb gives her a couple and asks that he not tell Peter. Caleb agrees and asks that she not tell Peter or Donald that she saw him. He then runs out of the alley, trying to keep from throwing up.
The next day at work, Caleb's boss asks about his "disappearing act." telling him that he could overlook it, but J.T., his nephew, was "walking around like a lost puppy dog." Speaking of J.T. he says, "Dumber than rocks I know but, thinks you walk on water. Don't be letting him down again." He pressures Caleb into agreeing to come over his house for Thanksgiving dinner and asks him to bring a bottle of wine. Caleb heads to the grocery store to pick up some wine and Emma happens to see him. She calls out to stop him even though he's running past the aisles. She notices he has red wine in his cart and remarks that she really like red wine. She asks Caleb if he's Okay, and after making sure Donald and Peter aren't there he tells her he needs to talk to her about his brother. She's agreeable, but Caleb says he doesn't want to do it in the store. She tries to figure out when he would like to do it, and Caleb almost falls asleep while standing up listening to her.
He comes back to his senses and says "I didn't want to do this here but I don't know when I'm gonna see you again. He keeps approaching her, backing her up into the aisle behind her and says "Look, I don't want you fucking my brother up." Emma laughs at the idea, but nods nervously and says OK.
Caleb continues, "I know you're a little whore. You don't fool me with your flirty little tops and your cliche punk rock bullshit. Okay,I know you slept with half the fuckin' frat guys at that stupid school of yours, and I don't want you destroying my brother. Understand me? He's a sweet kid and hes a goddamn virgin and I just know you're this train wreck that he's not gonna be able to get out of the way of."
Emma gets angry and tells him not to talk to her like that. Caleb grabs her face in his hand and holds her there while again calling her a whore and threatening to kill her if she messes up Peter. Emma is very frightened at this point, in tears. He forces Emma to nod that she understands what he's saying before he storms off leaving her sobbing in the aisle.
Caleb sits in his truck outside the store and starts sobbing to himself. He turns off the truck when he sees Emma coming out, and approaches her outside. She's very angry now and tells him not to come near her or she'll scream.Caleb doesn't listen and approaches, pleading with her not to scream. He apologizes and she asks if he's crazy. He tells her he's not crazy and starts sobbing in front of her. He apologizes for crying and asks her not to tell his father and brother. Emma looks horrified and confused.Caleb moves closer to her and reaches, as if to touch her, but Emma punches him in the face, knocking him to the ground. She says "Don't fuck with me!" but turns sympathetic when she sees him bleeding and agrees not to tell if he'll stop making a scene.
Emma, Donald and Peter eat dinner later, which Emma cooked. When Donald remarks that it's delicious, she says her Mother taught her to cook,before she started drinking. Donald jokingly says "A drunk? Is she single?" earning a dirty look from Peter. Emma tells him that her parents both drink and they have "an arrangement.
Late that night, Emma sneaks outside to smoke and sees Caleb's truck in the driveway. She steps out of sight and sees him sneaking around the house. She calls him, surprising him enough that he trips and falls. He attempts to leave, but she tells him he owes her an explanation.
Emma: You want to tell me why you called me a whore at the grocery store?
Caleb: You don't want to know why I'm out in front of Donald's house in the middle of the night with a camera?
Emma: Not really.
He asks her for a cigarette which she gives him. "Peter told me that you cheated on your boyfriend to be with him. And hearing that, I was cheated on very recently, and I don't want you to hurt him.And also,I haven't slept in over a week..." He explains that this makes him do strange things such as introducing himself to a tree. She tells him she's not a whore and he says Okay and leaves.
The next morning Emma goes out for a jog with Donald, who rides his bike. She takes the opportunity to ask about Peter's mother. She explains that Peter hasn't told her anything about his mother other than that she died when he was twelve. Donald explains that Peter was ten when he last saw her. He asks her if there's a reason she hasn't asked Peter, but she tells him that she has. Donald tells her that, Diane, their mother was having an affair and he asked her to leave the house. The boys didn't want to see her, feeling betrayed, and she developed cancer a year later and they didn't see her again. "Not just Peter, none of us did." he explains.
Caleb and J.T. talk on the job. Caleb asks J.T. if he's ever though about hurting someone. "Sure, all the time." J.T. answers reminding Caleb of a night they got drunk and thought he killed someone, but then found out he was blacked out at the bar the whole night. Caleb talks about wanting to hurt Donald, which he thinks is unhealthy as he isn't a teenager. He also tells J.T. that when he saw his brother's girlfriend last night, he thought he was becoming his father. His boss gives him a hard time for not showing up for dinner, and Caleb tells him that he did get some sleep.
Later, Donald, Caleb and Emma, are outside grilling chicken, when Donald notices something in the woods,and makes a remark about raccoons. He grabs his shotgun and starts blasting, before Caleb comes crawling out to avoid getting shot,begging Donald not to shoot. Donald and Caleb are icy towards each other, although Donald asks if he's losing his hair. Caleb says he was just taking pictures, and they establish that he wasn't shot. Donald the tells him "Trespass on my property again and I will shoot you." Caleb remarks "Better work on your aim then."
Caleb takes Emma and Peter put for some food. Peter describes the incident he just witnessed as the strangest thing he ever saw. When Peter goes to the restroom, Emma demands to know what he's doing, thinking he's taking pictures of her. She tells him she's confused by his behavior being normal one moment, while in the next he's "a complete lunatic" He tells her that he doesn't have feeling for her and doesn't even like her much and asks how she feels about that. She gets flustered and asks him to stop. She threatens:
Emma: I don't want to have to discuss this with Peter.
Caleb: Ah well. You're not gonna do that.
Emma: I will if I have to.
Caleb: No you won't.
Emma: What do you want from this?
Caleb: Don't break his heart.That's all. You're so beautiful. Don't break his heart please.
Emma: I think that you need help!
Caleb reaches across the table trying to kiss her. She pushes him away and he tells her that since they talked, he's sleeping again. They try to act casual when Peter returns. When he drops them off at Donald's Caleb takes a minute alone with Peter, telling him that Emma's been "looking at him." and he should be careful. Peter tells him it's all in his head and asks Caleb if he's noticed the way he and Emma look at each other. He looks at Caleb seriously and says "I think we're in love." prompting Caleb to start laughing uncontrollably. He convinces Caleb that he's serious and tells him that Emma wants to take his virginity. Caleb changes his tone, and tells Peter he's happy for him and wrong about her being a whore. Peter says an awkward "thanks." and gets out of the truck. Caleb stops him before he gets far and says "Peter, you know I love you,right?" Peter thanks him and Caleb takes off.
Peter and Emma take a bath together, with Peter wearing shorts. In the bathtub Emma asks him why he hasn't told her about his mother, when she has told him all about her parents' drinking problems. She tells him she heard from his father that Peter didn't see his mother when she was sick. Peter tells her that his dad was mostly telling the truth,except that Caleb saw their mother before he died and he and Donald hadn't spoken since.
Caleb is spending time with a hooker in a hotel room. He asks her if she's ever been in love with the idea of a person. She doesn't get what he's saying at all, and he says"Oh, of course, I'm sorry you were probably molested as a child. Were you molested as a child?" She gets upset and tells him he has no right to ask her that. He gets perturbed at the idea that he can have sex with her for money but can't ask her if she was molested and storms out of the room. He returns a moment later and apologizes pointing out that it was really rude. He also says he didn't tip her well and gives her some more money and tells her sincerely to have a good weekend.
Caleb heads over to Donald's house and sits in his truck in the dark. He falls asleep thinking of his experiences with his ex girlfriend, waking up when Emma closes the door going outside to smoke. Emma realizes that she's locked herself out, while Caleb apologizes for kissing her, and tells her he won't bother her anymore. Emma doesn't say anything until he asks her to accept the apology. She says "Sure." and tells him she's locked out and asks if he knows another way in. He takes her around the side of the house and opens a window offering to go in first and then pull her in. He pulls her in so her body ends up on top of his and makes a small attempt to hold her there She tells him she "doesn't want to see him again,ever" and he lets her go. She seems a bit conflicted though and making sure no one else is awake, she pleasures herself before going to sleep.
The next morning, Caleb lies down on the job site mimicking a Crucifixion, and tells his boss he might have to quit because he's not a good person. His boss says "Well I know that, but don't you think we could choose something a little less dramatic than this to get your point across?" Caleb announces "I'm going to take the rest of the day off, telling his boss it's OK if he has to fire him. Caleb heads to a bar where J.T. joins him. After asking if he's OK, J.T. asks "Have you fucked your brother's girlfriend yet?" Caleb answers "No. But I want to, very badly." Caleb sees a couple of guys playing pool harassing a waitress.He asks J.T. to excuse him for a minute, changes the song in the jukebox and approaches the pool players by saying "Hey bros, quick question, do you guys like playing shitty music while you're butt fucking or after?" Caleb picks up the cur ball from the table and hits the closest guy with it before he has a chance to react. One of the other guys grabs him while another hits him. J.T. notices what's going on and easily knocks them around and helps Caleb up.
Caleb and J.T.talk outside and Caleb says Emma's leaving tomorrow, so he'll probably never see her again. He adds "I just wish I could get over this strange compulsion to protect Peter. The only way I know how to do that is to hurt him" J.T. says "When I was a kid, my Pa used to beat me up pretty good if I messed something up. He made me cry a lot. But, it made me tough, you know?" Caleb looks at J.T. approvingly for once and goes home.
Emma and Peter are in bed trying to have sex. Emma tries to give him directions but he gets overexcited before the act even starts. He says "almost, almost right?" Emma tells him it's OK, but looks obviously disappointed. She runs to the bathroom and cries while Peter sleeps. Emma hears Caleb's truck outside and runs out to meet him. She notices his face is bruised but they start kissing passionately. Caleb tells her to go to his old room and take off her clothes. She goes to the room but can't bring herself to undress. She heads towards the door and Caleb walks in. After a few moments silently considering what they're doing, she kisses him and they make love.
Afterwards Caleb looks at pictures in the room. Emma asks him why he was the only person to see his mother in the hospital. Caleb explains that he was mad at her when she left, but realizing she was sick, he pressured his Dad for information and finally concluded that his Dad was lying and went to his mother directly. She told him that Donald had been cheating on her for years, and one day it got so bad she had to leave, not realizing hat he would try to take her boys away from her. Emma asks,"Why didn't you ell Peter?" Caleb answers "He was twelve years old."Emma kisses him again. Caleb tell her that if he "didn't know any better, he would have thought it was her first time." Emma nervously doesn't answer, Caleb gets enough of an answer. Caleb gets up and leaves, although Emma protests. He says "Peter's in love with you OK? It's my brother!" Emma looks shocked and confused.
Caleb leaving the room, sees Donald right outside the door looking at him with shotgun in hand. Donald reminds him that he promised to shoot him if he came on the property again. He asks Caleb, "Did you just fuck your brother's girlfriend? Of course you did. You piece of shit. Well,are you going to tell him,or should I?"
Caleb: You're not going to tell him a goddamn thing Donald.
Donald: Of course I am. He's my son.
Caleb: I'm your son. I'm your son Donald! I'm your son! You left me remember? You left me because I fucking found you out. Tell me something. Why don't you tell me how much of a fucking coward you have to be to erase your son.
Donald: Wait.Hold on a second. Come on. I tried to reach out. I found out where your place is and I tried to come over a couple of times.
Caleb: I've lived less than two miles away from you for more than eight years. Dad...You were my fucking hero.
Donald appears to be on the verge of tears,but before he can say anything they hear Peter getting up and coming out into the hallway. They hide together in a closet,while he goes to check on Emma. Peter notices that Emma is sweaty.She tells him she had a bad dream. He seems to have something on his mind and when Emma asks him what it is. He says "Do you think we could try again?" In the closet,Caleb tells his father that if he tells Peter, he'll tell Peter his secrets,before sneaking out of the house.
The next morning, Peter and Emma are in bed, Peter sound asleep, and Emma wide awake looking agitated.
Donald drives them to the Amtrak station. Peter stares at Emma on the ride while she looks out the window. He lets them out and when Emma thanks him for having her over, he says condescendingly, "Okay" HE asks Peter to hang back a second so they can talk alone. He tells Peter, "I haven't been a perfect father. I want you to know that I know that. I've made mistakes, some of which were unavoidable and I can't really be held responsible for those. What I'm trying to say, uh, you know, you're old enough now to know that sometimes people do things that they know are wrong, but they just do 'em anyway because to do the right thing would be too painful." He adds on an "I love you" they hug and he lets Peter go.
Peter and Emma take their seats. Caleb is on a job nearby turns hearing the train whistle. Inside the train car Peter whispers "I love you" in Emma's ear. When he sees hat she looks disturbed, he starts apologizing. She starts crying as he asks "What?" Caleb shows up at Donald's door and rings he buzzer. Donald comes to he door and they look each other over for a moment before Donald asks him to come in.
"The Vicious Kind" is director Lee Tolland Krieger's first film although you wouldn't know it from watching. The cold and bleak settings he uses match the inner lives of the characters . Donald's house and Caleb's apartment, the main settings are places to sleep rather than places to live. Donald's kitchen is the only place where any warm interaction occurs, and even then it feels temporary, they don't linger there, but eat and then Peter and Emma hurry off to their own rooms. There's a lot they don't talk about publicly, except for the presence of Emma, who asks questions none of them are used to dealing with. Donald, Caleb and Peter observe a code of silence about their mother/ Donald's ex wife, although we find out, each does so for different reasons. This is a movie about family relationships, how they ruin us and sometimes help us, and the struggle involved in caring for each other. Unquestionably this is Caleb's movie and Adam Scott carries the role remarkably giving his character enough substance that we're not shocked to discover any of his extremes.
Krieger shines in his character work, paying close attention to the subtleties of behavior. He organically shows the chinks in everyone's armor that they don't know they reveal. The dialogue is sharp and believable and the cast is interesting without being overly "quirky." These characters come across as real people. The soundtrack is also terrific and used in the movie to great effect, bolstering mood, but not seeming like a music video. The actors are all great, with Adam Scott clearly the star, giving a memorable and riveting performance. Brittany Snow is also great in her challenging role. Her college girl seems like a college girl rather than a grown woman playing younger. Alex Frost and J.K Simmons may not have as much depth to their roles but they inhabit them completely nonetheless.
Caleb is a complete loner, his only friend J.T., for all his affability, sees things too simply to help Caleb with any of the issues he's wrestling with. He tries his best to project a hard exterior, using his naturally sharp tongue to wound others before they have the chance to wound him. For all of his talk that "all women are whores" his true animosity is not towards women at all, but men. The closest thing Caleb has to a relationship is with a hooker, yet when he offends her he's quick to correct himself and apologize. He doesn't truly have a problem with "whores" at all, but relationships that make him vunerable to believing and investing himself in something, which he'll later learn isn't true. His relationship with his father, is the flawed model that his whole persona is built on. The cynicism he shows has it's roots in the enormous lies his father told him and being the only one with a knowledge of the scope of his father's vindictiveness. He tells Donald, that he was "his hero." and we know that both Caleb and Peter felt hurt and betrayed by their perception of their mother's behavior, a behavior, which he learns is completely fabricated by Donald. Finding the truth from his mother, just before it's too late, he also has to live with the knowledge that he was his father's tool in hurting the woman he was closest too. He becomes complicit in his father's crime by keeping the information from Peter, who was twelve at the time, and even as an adult seemed too simple to handle such news.
Caleb sees protecting Peter as one of his main goals, but the truth of this statement is subject to some question. While we see that he does care for Peter, he is as aware as we are that his methods are badly flawed. His desire to hurt, in response to his own pain, is mixed with every motive he has. Peter does appear very fragile, existing in his own unimaginably pure and naive world. We can't help but wish. like Caleb does that he had had a few girlfriends in high school, as his untouched state, makes it hard to imagine any outcome that doesn't end with him being crushed. Peter can't even tolerate, his father making a big deal about Emma's looks, quickly and uncomfortably trying to shift the conversation to her grades as if she's been insulted. While there's no doubt that Donald has a lecherous streak, Peter's reactions are overreacting. He's not used to having a girlfriend and he's in love with an idea of a girl, rather than the girl. He doesn't understand that there is an element of truth, to his father's advice, when he tells her, that she won't mind hearing about how pretty she is. Caleb worries about falling for "the idea of a girl" but he doesn't realize he also has "the idea" of a brother. While he may love his brother, they are not close, and may as well speak different languages. What he really wants to save is his sense of family, but he knows instinctively that this may not be possible, with his mother being dead, and the mutual animosity with his father. Peter is his only link to a time when things were good, and as he can still talk to Peter he can cling to this hope. Yet, just as he sought out his mother, unable to bear not knowing the truth, he finds a way to break this illusion as well because he can't work on solutions in the real world until his false ideas are gone. Caleb's true dilemma is his talent for self justification and refusal to see where his own thoughts are leading him.
While Emma is fascinated by Peter and appreciates his sweet disposition, she underestimates his naivete. He's a boy she met at college, who she really likes, but she doesn't feel a responsibility for guarding him that Caleb does. She wants to be desired but Peter is only capable of worshipping the idea of her, not loving her in a passionate or engaging way. Emma comes from two alcoholic parents who don't pay attention to her. Her own desires for attention are not clear in her mind and she imagines being with Peter as a healthy choice, yet finds herself surprised when this leaves her unsatisfied, demonstrated quite clearly by their brief and comical attempt at making love. She knows that Caleb is more messed up than she can imagine. She also knows that he's passionate, unpredictable and able to see and love her as a woman. She however, is a bit naive herself, and her shock when Caleb has to leave after having sex (as well as the reveal that it was her first time) tell us that she had imagined the scenario playing out differently. Perhaps she thought Caleb would stay with her and they'd deal with breaking it to Peter eventually an outcome that Caleb could never consider. She does understand why Caleb never told Peter the truth about their mother but can't apply that knowledge to her own situation, being too overtaken by her own confusing desires. Donald and Caleb are used to protecting Peter, shielding him from reality, which certainly has some part in his virginal personality. At the end of the movie, when he whispers "I love you" to Emma, she has no choice but to be the only person who will tell him the hard truth. Peter is still a child, and she speaks to him kindly, but she can't allow him to go on unaware of what's happened. Emma is genuinely drawn to the story of Peter's mother. She gets details from each of the three men involved, even asking Caleb for information after doing the one thing that ensures her time with this family is limited. Emma's family is dysfunctional in a different way, they stick together despite their lack of interest in each other, according to Emma, "making arrangements" and drinking more to tolerate each other.
The movie introduces Caleb, just after he's been badly hurt. We don't know much about his relationship, other than that he was cheated on. We do see through his memories that he thinks of the relationship as one containing some warmth and that it bothers him enough to keep him from sleeping for a week. We can assume that his cynical streak didn't just appear then though, but is exaggerated by his anger. We see that he isn't able to deal with lingering questions, ending his ex girlfriend's desperate silent phone calls in an absurdly angry manner, by dropping her off pictures off him having sex with a prostitute while flipping her off. He's drawn to drastic solutions whether for himself or for his brother. He like J.T.'s observation that his father beating him made him tough, observing himself, that the only way he knows to protect Peter is to hurt him. The way in which he hurts him, is no doubt helped by the fact that he desires his brother's girlfriend, who reminds him to an eerie degree of his own ex girlfriend. His actions are not altruistic, but his reasoning contains enough seemingly noble motive, that he allows it to occur, constructing his own fantasy reasoning which is as pervasive as Peter's view of the world. His position that "all women are whores" can be more accurately stated as "women have the power to hurt you if you love them." and this is a very real concern he has. As devastated as he himself is, he can't imagine what such an experience would do to his brother. What Caleb fails to include in his statement is that it isn't only women that can hurt you, but anyone you love, especially your family.
Every character in the film is an ethical mess, although not unbelievably so. Donald's assessment "that people do things they know are wrong because to do the right thing is too painful." is accurate for them all. Who hasn't found themselves doing the wrong thing at some point or another, although hopefully not to this degree. The world is not as pure as Peter thinks it is, and while we might hope that the Peters of the world can get by unchanged by the real world around them, we know that this isn't likely. We can hope that Peter recovers a little tougher, but not as cynical as Caleb, but the uncomfortable reality is that in life, people will get hurt, sometimes excruciatingly, and what they do with that, is usually out of our hands. Everyone sees him/herself as the center of their own universe, and despite noble or malicious sounding motives, a great deal of effort is spent in just coping with what we have on our own plates. This affects others and is sometimes changed by them, but Caleb's thought of protecting his brother was only a way to protect himself and the things he wants. I a way by betraying his brother, he atones for not telling him the truth years ago, which could have "toughened him up."
All of these characters are badly broken, but none of them live up to the image they project. Caleb tries his best to be tough, cynical and unreachable, yet he's crippled by his pain every time. He can't hurt someone without coming back to apologize later, as if he's trying on a persona but can't get it right. Peter tries to be honorable as a way to mask his insecurities and everything he doesn't know particularly about women. His oversensitivity to any comments about Emma being beautiful reveal how intimidated he is. He's still a virgin and has Emma picked out as "the one" for little reason other than her sticking around and taking an interest in him. He even dresses in a way that he imagines a "well dressed" man would dress, possibly just to impress Emma. Emma is neglected by her parents and a virgin herself, yet she tries to present a worldly and experienced look. She's been sheltered in a different way than Peter, having to hide her family from everyone until she could explain it. She mentions their drinking too often for it to be something she's come to terms with. Telling others about her parents is likely very new to her, and another effort to paint herself as worldly and jaded. But for all her efforts, we can see her panic, when Caleb leaves, or when Donald gives her the cold shoulder saying goodbye. She wants to be loved but hasn't formed a clear picture of what means, probably not understanding why she's attracted to the unstable dangerous brother, when she already has the nice and sweet brother. Donald is a man most concerned with his own image. People to him are naturally possessions that he can discard if he needs to, no matter what he's put them through. Erasing a mother from her children's lives is no small task, nor is rejecting your son for eight years for no reason other than his knowledge of your secrets.
Each of the characters does manage to grow. Caleb learning that he's not as different from his father as he thought, even being forced to switch places with him, making his father keep his dirty secret. He manages to get past acting out of hurt, and realizes that as much as he'd like to hurt his father, underneath it all, he needs him. He accepts this too late to prevent a big mistake, but nothing in this film comes easily. Peter has his heart broken for the first time a necessary and inevitable thing, given his oblivious and unrealistic outlook towards the world. Emma has to face that she needs more than just a man who adores her as a mythological creature, needing passion and engagement as well. Donald accepts that Caleb is his son, whether he knows his secrets or not. There's no happily ever after, but there's progress, and lacking any cause other than finding a reasonable way to live their lives, and for people with such deep emotional problems, that's realistically as much as you can hope for.