quarta-feira, 20 de julho de 2016

Movie Analysis: The Woodsman (2004)

My therapist assigned me a task: Watching The Woodsman (2004). A rather short movie, at around 1h30m, but which addresses an extremely complex and delicate topic: The reinsertion of a sex offender in society after leaving prison and the inherent difficulties that poses. It also shows if it is possible for an offender to learn from his mistakes and change his own life.

In case you have never heard about the movie here is a synopsis:

After twelve years in prison, Walter arrives in an unnamed city, moves into a small apartment across the street from an elementary school, gets a job at a lumberyard, and mostly keeps to himself. A quiet, guarded man, Walter finds unexpected solace from Vickie, a tough-talking woman who promises not to judge him for his history. But Walter cannot escape his past. A convicted sex offender, Walter is warily eyed by his brother-in-law, shunned by his sister, lives in fear of being discovered at work, and is hounded by a suspicious local police officer, Detective Lucas. After befriending a young girl in a neighborhood park, Walter must also grapple with the terrible prospect of his own reawakened demons. (Source: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0361127/)

This review, and analyses to a point, will be based mainly on my understanding of the movie while also being based on the discussions I had with my therapist about it.

Beginning of the movie

The movie begins by presenting us to the main character, Walter Rossworth (Kevin Bacon), who is being released from prison and is having his file being processed alongside a photo of him. Up to this moment we don't have any idea, or information, of what Walter has done to land in prison but only his name, age (45 years old) and that is under supervised parole. It is also mentioned, in a faded audio, that he can't come within 300 feet of any schools.

The Woodsman (2004) - Walter's file/registry
Next we see Walter inside a bus and his arrival at an apartment building where he managed to rent a place. This apartment, as per the synopsis, is located across the street from an elementary school and its playground can be observed from his living room's window. The reason why he rented this place is explained further into the movie as being the only place that would accept an ex-prisoner as the tenant.

This already shows a bit about the intolerance and prejudice in society towards former inmates. We have someone who has committed a crime and done his time. So we should assume that his debt has been settled and we should treat this person as we do any other citizen. Unfortunately this is not what happens nowadays and it can be even worse depending on the crime that person has committed.

We then see Walter getting a job at a lumberyard, something that was only possible because the current manager's father knew Walter from before. The manager makes it clear that he doesn't want any kind of trouble. It is possible to once more see how hard it is for someone who just left prison to get a job. As per mentioned before if the nature of the offense was sexual this becomes even harder.

The only person from his family who keeps in touch with him is his brother-in-law. He mentions how his business is doing well but didn't hire Walter, so despite providing support for him there are certain limits to it. Through the brother-in-law we find out that Walter has a niece, who is turning 12 years old soon. Walter is not invited to his niece's birthday which indicates how his sister is not ready to see, or deal with, her brother yet.

The Woodsman (2004) - Walter and his brother-in-law
Walter also has to attend therapy which is mandatory for sex offenders released in parole. However we see that he doesn't want to do therapy and also treat his therapist with hostility. One important thing the therapist suggests to him is keeping a journal/diary about his thoughts and feelings. Many people, and me included, feel more comfortable with writing about their feelings rather than talking about them.

Walter often 'sees', or better yet hallucinates, about seeing a little girl with a read ball. This usually happens at times of strong emotions or great stress he is currently facing. The only moment in the whole film where it happens while he is feeling okay is when he counts the steps from his apartment to the school's entrance. He finds that the school's entrance is located at 320 feet from his house (thus he is not violating his parole) and at this moment the gate, which was previously closed, is open (in his delusion) and a red ball rolls out of the school.

It seems that this hallucination, of the gate being open and the ball rolling out, is a reminder of his subconscious that his attraction to little girls still exists. The red ball can also be an indication that he is close to giving in to his impulses and thus commit another abuse. So overall the red ball, and the little girl, are reminders that children are always present at some level in his mind at any given time.

Personal relationships

 At work it is interesting to see how he has a asexual behavior towards women. It would indicate that he doesn't have a sexual attractions towards adults or at least not a strong one. I think it is mainly due to this that his coworker Vicki ends up warming up to him. Unlike the other men in the workplace that harass her Walter treats her as any other person.

He is also very much an introvert and avoids opening up to people. Be that due to a personality trait or a defense mechanism (to avoid people from finding out about his history) this ends up isolating him from people around him. It is also worth noticing how he seems a bit uncomfortable while interacting with women in a social environment.

The Woodsman (2004) - Walter interacts with Vicki at work
 Vicki ends up being the one who makes the first move in order for the both of them to get to know each other better. Walter lies to her about the reason why he is living close to a school (for obvious reasons). I was left wondering if him living close by to a school isn't an analogy for his post-prison life.

Even after being released on parole for sexually abusing children he puts himself, even if not intentionally, in a place where he could have contact with them again. In a way it sort of tells how his minds is wired, at least for now, on seeking an interaction, a sexual one, with a child again. By living close to a school the movie is telling us that Walter is gravitating towards children, and the possibility of doing something to them.

Walter and Vicki end up having sex which Vicki classifies as being "very intense". Sort of obvious given he has spend 12 years behind bars and has had no sexual relations during that time. Though in my views he didn't look very comfortable with the experience. He doesn't seem to be an exclusive pedophile (only attracted to children) but his sexual attraction to adults is secondary and very weak.

Just as before his interactions with Vicki show how "unprepared" he is in regards of flirting with her. In the sense he doesn't have a lot of "game" when it comes to flirting with adults (as flirting with kids of the age that attract him is not exactly possible).

Candy - the other offfender Walter watches from his window

There is another man, in a white car, that Walter watches from his window. He calls him Candy because this man always have a bag of candies he hands out to boys that are going to school. It is noticeable this is a grooming attempt, where the abuser tries to gain the child's trust to later on abuse the child, made by him in order to get the boys to enter his car.

We even see previously, from Walter's window, how Candy tries to get one of the boys to enter his car. Walter considers calling the police but points out how ironic it is for someone with his history, and being on parole, to call the cops about this.
The Woodsman (2004) - Candy tries to strike a conversation with some boys on the street
By seeing Candy trying to interact with two boys, at another scene, he writes down in his diary "Yeah that's right. If the boy goes for a ride it is because he WANTS to go for a ride". By writing this he makes it clear that he thinks if the child wants to do it then it is the child's responsibility. It isn't up to him, or Candy, as responsible adults to take care of the children so they are not hurt by them.

This is even more important because it is something we see quite often among the arguments of pro-contact pedophiles. That children have sexual rights and that they have the capability to consent to sexual acts. That if a child doesn't want to engage in such an act the child has the ability to say no and that it will be respected. Also that those who deny children their sexual rights are sex fascists. A huge cognitive distortion which is also demonstrated by Walter in one simple phrase.

I will talk more about Candy later on as he appears further along the movie.

Talking about his past

Walter's relationship with Vicki evolves and they begin to date. They have sex once again and after falling asleep Walter has a weird dream. He is walking through some woods and we also see someone's else feet that judging by the size and the footwear is of a child's. They are not together and it seems like one is chasing the other (Walter chasing the child). This is an important scene because it anticipates the best scene in the whole movie. That scene is discussed later on as it appears close to the end of the movie.

After waking up, scared by the dream, Vicki starts prodding him to tell about his past. And we get to hear a bit more about what Walter has done.

The Woodsman (2004) - Walter shares about his past
 Basically he molested several girls, although the exact number is not revealed, between the ages of 10 years old and 12 years old. He also says that once there was a 9 years old girl who lied about being 11 and a 14 years old who lied about being 12. He reveals that he always asks their ages. This seems relevant because it shows what ages he is attracted to and shows his modus operandi to "filter out" those girls (given that there isn't, sometimes, a physical distinction between girls of similar ages).

The thing though that stands out the most is Walter's statement that he has never hurt those girls (Vicki even questions if he only fondled them instead of doing something more aggressive and violent such as raping them). This notion, that he doesn't hurt the girls, is very important. There are many people, be them pedophiles or not, that justify their acts by claiming they never hurt the victims. That the victims were willing and in case they didn't want to do anything they could have said no. Which is something closely related to what was mentioned over at the Candy section a few paragraphs above.

It clearly demonstrates how Walter views himself: as someone who is not a child molester but merely someone who is attracted to them and that, in a completely distorted view, corresponded his attractions and enjoyed participating in those acts. Again it is something quite close to the whole pro-contact view. That kids have sexual rights and they can enjoy sex.

After this bombshell revelation he kicks Vicki out of his apartment. She is, of course, in shock over it but somehow she does seem to be trying to process the news. She doesn't demonstrates having an immediate bad reaction, nor a good one, but does show she is trying to digest and manage this whole situation. Walter though becomes aggressive and kicks her out of the apartment. Seems as if he expects he will be rejected and that no one will ever accept him. In this way he prefers to reject people, and be distant from them, before he is rejected. In an attempt to lessen his pain.

The Woodsman (2004) - Vicki shocked after finding out about Walter's past


We see throughout the movie a series of Walter's sessions with the therapist. As mentioned before this is usually a requirement of his parole. Here however we see for the first time some "willingness" on Walter's behalf to actually participate. It is, however, with a very distorted expectation and focus.

After the episode with Vicki he asks his therapist if he will be normal and when that will happen. As if therapy would magically solve all of his problems with no effort at all on his behalf. This wish does demonstrate how Walter is conflicted about himself. The therapist even asks what is Walter's idea of normal to have an angry comeback directed at him saying that he is the therapist, he should now how to define normal.

The Woodsman (2004) - Walter in one of the therapy sessions
Walter also mentions to the therapist that a person shouldn't be too attached to children. Seems as he is talking more about the fact that children grow up and stop being attractive to him other than creating emotional bonds to those children. As he assumes everyone is attracted, at some level, to children. He also claims his brother-in-law is "crazy over his daughter" and if he is not careful he will suffer from it.

A very interesting point about therapy is that he claims that talking to the therapist is like a merry-go-round. The therapist comments how that is a "wonderful image" because by walking in circle, in the sense of discussing something over and over, you notice things you missed the first time around. Indicating that the therapeutic process is valid exactly because it makes us revisit our thoughts, feelings and memories so we can analyze them again and find out new things about ourselves.

Law Enforcement and Walter's reinsertion in society

The first police visit is made to Walter. As he is in parole he needs to subject to be visited, at any time, by an officer who will make sure he is not breaking his parole. This office is Sargent Lucas, who introduces himself by "breaking into" Walter's apartment to inspect it.

I used the term "breaking into" between quotes because Walter knows he is obliged to allow it. Although Sgt. Lucas could have been more polite while conducting such task, which is something he alludes to in an ironic way by saying "I always like to ask [permission to get in]. It is a force of habit". Stating that he will enter Walter's house, with his permission or not, and that he simply asks for it out of, mock, politeness.

The Woodsman (2004) - Sgt. Lucas "breaking into" Walter's apartment
The officer conducts a search on Walter's house after ironically asking again if he could do so. Walter replies that such actions bothers him to which the officer instantly asks if he has anything to hide. This demonstrates that the officer has a suspicion-first attitude, even if there aren't any evidences or facts to back that up.

Sgt. Lucas also claims he could go get a search warrant if it is necessary to which Walter replies that "if you could get one, you would have already brought it". So even while being on parole he has some basic rights guaranteed and which are totally disregarded by the officer.

The officer then proceed to inquire if Walter knows anything about a 10-year-old girl who was attacked close by about two nights ago. As a registered sex offender his name will be automatically considered in the suspect list as he lives close by. Still, the method by which he is questioned shows an underlying aggressive attitude towards him.

Sgt. Lucas goes as far as disrespectfully spitting in Walter's kitchen sink and threatening him with homicide by saying no one will miss "a piece of shit like you". It shows how the police's, and society's, attitude works on a general level towards former offenders. There isn't the possibility of those people to change. They will always be unworthy of respect or empathy and should be harassed.

Public spaces

We see Walter heading to the shopping mall. A normal everyday action. While riding the escalator he notices a girl who is further up ahead of him. When he gets to the top he starts walking but the girl turns around to look at him for a second. At this point it seems that Walter rationalizes that the girl is interested in him (another cognitive distortion) and so he proceeds to follow her from the other side of the second floor.

The Woodsman (2004) -  The girl in blue with the hood that Walter observes at the mall

The girl starts trying out a necklace and Walter moves closer to her while pretending to be checking out some other products in a glass stand. The store's clerk then asks him if she can be of assistance and startles him. He looks around and notices at a distance a mall's security guard. He also notices the girl walking away in the distance. He never actually got close to the girl but his mind fantasized about doing it. Again, showing how Walter's mind is stuck at doing something with a girl.

The mall's security guard also seems to serve as an analogy to his own fear and sense of morality. Just as the security guard is watching people walking by Walter's morality code, which is underdeveloped at this point when it comes to girls, is also watching, from a distance, his actions. This morality code is still not well developed, or strong enough, to stop him but at least it exists somewhere in his mind.

Therapy Redux - What is normal?

Walter mentions to the therapist that his idea of being normal is being able to interact with girls without having sexual feelings for them. He wants to stop being attracted to girls and wants to start feeling attracted to adults. Basically he wants to change his sexual attraction. Something which, according to scientific studies, is not possible to be done. However we do see Walter beginning to want to change here.

His idea of changing is not doable but it is possible to notice how he starts to not want to interact with girls sexually anymore. Changing one's sexual attraction is, unfortunately, not possible as mentioned previously but it is certainly possible to learn how to live with it and manage it in a better way. This should be Walter's focus during therapy alongside learning how to deal with his emotions and his present situation post-prison.

Living his daily life

Walter is accepted by Vicky and she eventually tells him about being a sexual abuse victim herself, something which was done by her three brothers. She tells how she is not angry at, or holds any grudge against, them. She somehow manages to have empathy to Walter and his situation. She seems to see something good in him that even he himself doesn't see (yet).

The Woodsman (2004) -  Walter is accepted by Vicki
Walter comments on how she must hate her brothers (surely a projection of his own sister on Vicki) and that what happened to her was child sexual abuse. She claims however to not hate her brothers, something a bit unusual but that I have seen happen among child abuse victims, and that if he suggests to her brothers they abused her they would surely beat him up. Whatever the reasons are for her not hating her brother, as well as for accepting Walter, he finds a partner in her that is willing to support him. This support is something fundamental for the reinsertion of sex offenders into society. 

He has another meet up with his brother-in-law and is told that his sister has decided to talk to him. It will happen in a few weeks time when his niece is out on camping. Up to this point the sister never showed any intentions to meet with up and the brother-in-law was the only contact Walter had with her.

The reason why the brother-in-law keeps in touch with him is because when he first started dating his sister Walter was the only nice person to him. It is important to notice how Walter takes for granted this support his brother-in-law gives him because he constantly display anger, and resentment, that his sister doesn't talk to him. All of it, I think, derives form the notion that he hasn't done anything wrong so people shouldn't be resentful or angry at him.

Therapy 3- Walter's sister

His therapists starts to dig into Walter's past and more specifically asks questions about the relationship with his sister. Reluctant at first Walter starts to share more about her and his interactions with her. Eventually we realize that Walter was attracted to his sister when they were little (he was 6 years old and she was 4 years old). And that those attractions evolved to something more when they were 10-11 years old and 8-9 years old respectively.

It is important to point out however that Walter says the only thing he did was smelling her hair when they were young. It is basically the same thing he does to Vicki later on when she sits on his laps and he asks her to stay still. He then goes on to smell her hair. As far as it is possible to tell those were the same type of actions that resulted in his arrest.
The Woodsman (2004) - Walter talking about his sister in therapy

This makes me think that, in some way, all the abuses that Walter committed are based on this fetish that seems like a reflection of what he did with his sister (when he was a 6-year-old  and she was a 4-year-old). Even though that fetish may have evolved over time it seems Walter tries to relive that some experience, the one with his sister, through these other girls and even adult women.

When the suggestion is made that those experiences Walter had with his sister were abusive he gets extremely defensive and angry. His eyes suggest he doesn't agree in the slightest with that and he angrily reiterates that what he did wasn't abusive.

I think two notions are at play here: one is his idea that he doesn't hurt the girls he abuses; the second is that he understands, at some level, he abused his sister but he isn't ready to admit that to himself, let alone to the therapist.

The girl and the bus

While Walter is riding the bus he notices a girl sitting in one of the seats. This same girl had appeared before in an earlier scene and Walter had noticed her. She is sitting on a seat that faces forward while having her back turned to Walter.

The Woodsman (2004) - The girl seating in the bus

When he notices her Walter display some measure of discomfort. It looks as if because she is sitting with her back towards him, and with loose hair, this ends up "triggering" his sexual attraction towards her. We next see him pulling the cord to have the bus stopped. At this moment I believed Walter, in face of his discomfort, preferred to leave the bus in order to avoid anything from happening. My hope was in vain.

The Woodsman (2004) - Walter requests the bus to stop but doesn't leave
The next scene shows the bus stopping, on the bus stop next to the school and Walter's house, but the door opens and no one leaves. The driver then closes the door and drives on. We next see the bus stopping in a residential looking street and the girl gets off and crosses the street. 

The Woodsman (2004) - The girls goes alone to the park
The camera then shows the bus leaving again and on the sidewalk we see Walter observing the girl. He calmly looks both ways before crossing the street and heads into the same park the girl just entered.

The Woodsman (2004) - Walter stops in the same bus stop as the girl
When we see the girl again she is using a pair of binoculars to watch birds in the trees. He strikes up a conversation with her, using a nest he saw as pretext, and tries to become "friendly" towards her. A tactic many child sex abusers use which is called grooming. Basically it consists on getting the child's trust and using it as a way to commit the abuse.

In this case he uses the girl's obvious interest in birds to start, and maintain, a conversation with her. Up until the point where she asks if he is also a fellow bird watcher, just like her, and he says he is a people watcher. At this moment the girl realizes it might not be best to keep talking to him and says her father expects her back before dark. She says goodbye and leaves.

The Woodsman (2004) - Walter interacting with the girl in the park

This encounter serves as a preparation for the best scene in the movie and the saddest by far. It happens near the end of the movie and we will soon get there.

Candy 2 - The boxing fight with cherubim

After returning to the house Walter sees, from his window, that Candy is trying again to convince a boy to get into his car. As I mentioned before this is also grooming but Candy uses, well, candy to get the boys' trust.This attempt though is depicted as a boxing fight. There is even a fictitious narrator that talks about Candy's and the boy's movements as if they were two boxers on the ring. 

In the fight's first round Candy convinces the boy to take the bag of candy, thus he wins the first round. The cherubim, as the boy is referred to, takes it but walks away, thus he winds the second round. Candy chases after the boy and tries again to convince him to get in the car. The little boy looks around searching for his friends but sees no one. We next see the boy going towards the car and getting into it. Candy wins the "fight". 
The Woodsman (2004) - Cherubim gets into Candy's car
This was one of the scenes that disturbed me the most in the whole movie. Showing this situation, of an abuser trying to find a victim, as if it was a game or a match or a fight. I can see why the analogy used makes sense but to me it makes so light of something heavy and bad. I explained this to the therapist but she didn't have the same perception as I did. 

Sargent Lucas and The Woodsman

While the boxing fight is being registered by Walter in his journal someone knocks on the door. When Walter opens we see Sgt. Lucas. He goes in and sits on an armchair and makes a comment about Walter's plant, a gift from Vicki, doesn't look direct exposure to the sunlight. Interesting to see how he tries to create a normal dialogue with Walter as opposed to his previous interactions with him. Walter however doesn't care much for the casual tone employed, and makes that clear, to which Sgt. Lucas changes his tone back to one he had displayed previously.

The Woodsman (2004) - Walter and Sgt. Lucas
The sergeant asks why Walter didn't get down on his usual bus stop. Walter remarks he fell asleep and missed his stop and had to walk home. Sgt. Lucas then comments about a case he worked on previously. About a men who was in death row for breaking and entering a house to abduct a 7-year-old girl named Adele. Ten days later her body was found.

Sgt. Lucas asks if Walter believes in fairy tales, to which he says no and the sergeant agrees they don't exist. He asks what is the name of a certain fairy tale with the woodsman, and his axe, who cuts open the wolf's belly and rescues the little girl alive. Walter says that is Little Red Riding Hood. Sgt. Lucas once again says that the woodsman open the wolf's belly and the girl gets out without one scratch.

He then asks Walter if he ever saw a 7-year-old little girl sodomized in half. That her body was so small and fragile. That veterans with 20 years on the force broke down and cried, just as he did. The sergeant then says that there isn't a woodsman in this world and that he doesn't understand why 'monsters' like Walter are set free. Because that only means that the police will have to go through all the trouble of catching them again.

The Woodsman (2004) - Sgt. Lucas says there aren't any woodsman in the world
The Woodsman analogy here is very interesting and it also used in the movie's title. The idea that Sgt. Lucas is trying to say is that there isn't anyone, not even the police, that can save kids before they are sexually abused. It shows how much of a cynic he is about his own job, most likely after coming across several of those cases during his career.

However there is one character in this movie who has the potential of being The Woodsman. That person is Walter himself. If he, and all the other people that will abuse children -- be them pedophiles or not --, can avoid doing something then that child gets by without one single scratch or injury due to the "wolf's belly" or the "wolf's claw".

The idea being that if people who abuse children can find a way to avoid that, even if it means once, then we will have children who were never abused in the first place nor are they traumatized by it. Basically we are talking about primary prevention as previously discussed in  Kids are people! Keep them (and teach them how to keep themselves) safe!.

After the officer leaves Walter has a nervous breakdown due to being compared to the men in the sergeant's story. He repeatedly says "I am not a...[monster]". This is important as it shows how Walter is being placed under a lot of psychological pressure.

The Woodsman (2004) - Walter has a nervous breakdown
Walter hears once more the ball's bouncing sound and turns around to see a little girl entering his bedroom while the red ball is left at the door. It is important to notice the symbolism of a child getting inside his bedroom (as it is the place where sexual relations usually occur). Again this indicates his subconscious is thinking about children and being under stress can intensify that.

The Woodsman (2004) - A little girl gets into Walter's bedroom while the red ball is left on the room's entrance

At work

A blue sheet of paper falls down from his locker at work as he is opening it. On it we see Walter's information from the registry just as the mention of his offenses and his status as a parolee. The other employee gather in a circle around him and start to be aggressive towards him. Vicki tries to stand up for him while trying to get him to leave but one employee jumps Walter.

When the company's manager, the same person who hired Walter in the beginning of the movie, arrives he inquires what is going and is handed one of the blue papers. He then says that anyone that is uncomfortable with that, Walter's record, can say so and get his payment for the week before being dismissed. No one says anything and they all get back to work. Back at his desk Walter stares intently to a circular blade spinning and contemplates suicide.

The Woodsman (2004) - Circular saw and suicide
This event, alongside Sgt. Lucas' story, is important because it shows how much pressure has been added to Walter's shoulders. He is clearly affected emotionally and mentally by both events and even considers suicide as an option.

Why is that important? Because around 75% of child sex abusers aren't pedophiles but situational offenders. People who are under an intense emotional and psychological load which can be coupled with substance abuse (drugs or alcohol) and thus end up abusing kids due to their mental state. They don't abuse those children for feeling sexually attracted to them but because they are easier to overpower, or because they were simply there.

By placing this emotional and psychological load on Walter's mind he ends up becoming more like a situational offender and due to his apparent poor impulse control ends up becoming more likely to abuse a child. By rebuffing those people who abused children, be them pedophiles or not, society ends up making them even more likely to re-offend and hurting another child.

Walter leaves his work by bus and we head into the best scene in the whole movie.

Robin and Walter at the park

Walter goes to the same park he followed the girl earlier and sits on a bench. Soon after we see the girl approaching and she asks if he has seen anything interesting before sitting down next to him. She gets a pencil and notebook from her backpack and starts making notes on birds. She shows a great pride in having identified dozens of birds this year alone.

We see how the girl seems to be very lonely and a person who hides inside her bird watching hobby. Walter asks where her friends are and if she has them. She answers she has friends but in a introvert fashion. He then says that a pretty girl like her must have lots of friends to which she sadly shakes her head and says she is not pretty. She clearly has self-esteem issues and this, coupled with her isolation from friends, ends up making her more susceptible for grooming.

The Woodsman (2004) - Robin saying that 11 years old is the world's stupidest age
He asks her name and after a guessing game she tells her name is Robin (like the bird). He asks her age (the old habit of asking that of his victims, as previously explained) and she claims she is 12 years old. He doesn't believe it and she says she will turn 12 in 3 months time while also saying that 11 is the world's stupidest age. We see how innocent she is by believing that by becoming older her life will change.

Robin asks if Walter has many friends and he explains that no as many years ago he was "sent away" and when he came back all his friends left him. She comments on how it looks as if he was banished. Its an interesting remark and the movie's way of saying that the stigma and rejection society shows towards former offenders causes them to be at risk of offending.

Robin then explains that the birds are her friends. That they know she watches them but that, as long as they know she won't hurt them, they don't mind. Sounds as if the birds serve as an analogy to children here. Walter can watch children from afar but he can't interact them.

Things now take a dark turn. Walter asks if Robin would like to sit on his lap and she says no. He clearly shows to be unhappy by this reply but says it is okay. Noticing that she asks, very timidly, if he wants her to sit on his lap and he says the would very much enjoy it. Why doe she asks that? She is a very lonely child and due to that she doesn't want to "lose" the only friend she thinks she has even if said friend made a weird request.
The Woodsman (2004) - Walter is disappointed by Robin's refusal to sit on his lap
Walter says he knows of a quiet place where there isn't anyone but some small birds that keep chirping, which she believes to be finches. He asks her if she wants to see that place and she clearly demonstrates, by her body language and her face, that she is extremely insecure and confused about all of this. She apparently feels that this is not a good thing but is unsure if she should go or not.

She says that her daddy lets her sit on his lap, while looking heartbroken to Walter. Walter doesn't notice that at first and asks her if she likes to sit on his lap. She looks down to her own lap for an instance and with sadness in her eyes looks at him before saying "No". Walter's face suddenly turns to confusion and he begins to realize that what he did to those girls, and tried to do to Robin, is a bad thing and it traumatizes them. This is the most interesting scene in the movie!

The Woodsman (2004) - Robin telling Walter she doesn't like to sit on her daddy's lap
 We finally see that his cognitive distortion, the one that he never harmed any of those girls, has finally been shattered. He continues to ask Robin a series of questions to better understand what her daddy did and her reaction, full of tears but without saying one single word, is heartbreaking. By far the saddest scene in the whole movie. 

The Woodsman (2004) - Robin is sad and cries when asked if her daddy says strange things or move his legs in a funny way when she sits on his lap
 Robin settles down a bit and asks, again, if he wants her to sit on his lap because if he does she will. We also see how Robin, the lonely girl with birds for friends, becomes an easier target to child sex abuse. Her low self-esteem and loneliness causes her to accept doing she doesn't want to in order to keep a newly found friendship. This is a portrait of many abuses that happen because the abusers took advantage of their victims' naivety and fragility.

The Woodsman (2004) - Robins asks if Walter still wants her to sit on his lap

Walter rejects her proposition while finally understanding he has the power to control his actions and not do anything that can harm her. He tells her to leave. She gets up and gives him an affectionate hug before leaving. Walter is left behind sitting on the bench, thinking about all he has done in his life.

The Woodsman (2004) - Robin hugs Walter before she leaves
We can also notice how Robin had some notion that something bad could have happened, in this case her sitting on Walter's lap. Again, I find it sad to realize that she sort of "takes that chance" in order to keep her "friend". Which only makes this scene even sadder as there isn't only the potential for child sexual abuse but also for child emotional abuse.

Both of which are stopped by Walter from happening. In this moment he becomes The Woodsman, the person who can save the child from the wolf's belly (himself) before the child gets hurt.The person who can make the right choice and stay non-offending for the child's, and his, sake.

Fighting with Candy

As Walter is walking back home from the park he comes across Candy's car pulling over. Candy gets out and opens the passenger's door for a boy, the cherubim from the "boxing fight" scene from earlier, to leave. The boys takes off running down the street. Walter, in light of his recent understanding and reflections, looks at this scene in incredulity.

The Woodsman (2004) - Walter looks at Candy after the boy leaves his car
At this moment Walter lunges towards Candy and starts beating him up. It is noticeable how much rage, that was stored inside, is being let out by Walter. A rage he directed at society for treating him harshly, to the cop who treated him sub-humanly but also to some point rage he directed at himself.

The Woodsman (2004) - Walter beats up Candy on the sidewalk
We see Walter repeatedly punching Candy's face until for a brief moment we see him beating himself. It is his face, not Candy's, that is shown taking the punches.

The message here seems clear: Walter, while beating up Candy, is actually beating up his old self, the one that existed prior to the park scene with Robin. The men who didn't believe he was doing any harm to the kids he abused. This brief moment where we see Walter punching "Walter" symbolizes that. The inner self change that happened and the point where he lets go of his former self and works towards changing.

The Woodsman (2004) - Walter is getting beat up on he left. A brief image that appears in between to Candy's beat up, displayed on the right.
By the end of the beating Walter is crying and is clearly exhausted. Exhausted from having purge his former self from his mind. On the next scene we see him walking down the streets with a certain amount of serenity and even confidence. A different symbolism caught my eye here. Him crossing the street perfectly in the middle of a diagonal crosswalk.
The Woodsman (2004) - Walter walking down the crosswalk
I saw this as being part of a statement the movie is making about Walter's sexual orientation. That it isn't something standard as heterosexuality or homosexuality. That means that the crosswalk representing it is diagonally, slightly out of standard for most crosswalks. Still, it is perfectly possible to walk on this crosswalk in a legal, ethical, manner meaning straight down the middle of it.

The message here is that even though if a person feels sexually attracted to kids, something non-standard and "diagonal" in fashion, that person can still do the right thing and not "jaywalk" (or abuse a child). The path is slightly different than the usual one but it is still possible to be followed correctly.

Moving - Changing

On the next day Sgt Lucas shows up for a visit. We already see a change in Walter's attitude to answer the door. Walter tells the person to come in withouth even asking who is there. Shows how his attitude changed from being someone who had something to had to someone who is a bit more open.

The cop asks if Walter heard the fight that went on last night right outside his apartment. Walter denies it Sgt. Lucas says how a witness, the boy Candy abused, described a person who beat up Candy as being exactly like Walter. We see Sgt. Lucas' attitude towards Walter also changes a bit. Before he was aggressive towards him and now he seems a bit more peaceful and cordial. He even comments on how Candy has an open arrest warrant for raping a boy in another state. It is clear that the Sgt. knows it was Walter who beat up Candy but ignores it as he deems the beating to have been fair.

Walter finally moves from his apartment to go live with his girlfriend. As I have mentioned before, him leaving in front of an elementary school seems to symbolize how in his mind he was still thinking about abusing girls. Now that he has changed his attitude, which happened in the park scene with Robin and in the beating up scene with Candy, he is also moving from his former apartment.
The Woodsman (2004) - Vicki helping Walter moving out from his apartment

Meeting his sister

The last scene of the movie shows Walter finally meeting his sister, by a small river. They are shown, from a distance, having a conversation but we don't know what goes on between them. Both Vicki and the brother-in-law watch from a distance, without interfering in the conversation.

The Woodsman (2004) - Walter talks with his sister
He tries to place his hand on her shoulder, a sign of comforting her, but is rejected. She storms out clearly disturbed by the conversation and both Vicki and the brother-in-law look at Walter showing they are sorry for him. Walter then crouches by the river and looks at Vicki.

The Woodsman (2004) - Walter looks at Vicki after talking to his sister

The ending

The movie ends with just an audio of one of Walter's sessions with his therapist. Walter mentions he has talked to his sister and that it was hard. That she is still hurt and angry from everything that has happened but that he understands her feelings. The therapist advises him that these things take time to be sorted out. He asks Walter how he feels about that [things taking time to be sorted out]. Walter says that he feels okay about that. Showing how much more mature he is after starting to change his attitude.


Mostly I think the movie is pretty clear and straightforward about the points it wants to get across. It is based on a theater play so probably most of the source material had to be reduced and adapted. Still it is a great movie that approaches a very difficult topic. To a point it is a shame it was done 12 years ago because most of its message was lost on the audience. Maybe nowadays it would have found more "success" in that front.

I think that the main message of the movie is that even former criminals who have committed something as serious as child sexual abuse can be rehabilitated. This happens through therapy, as long as the person is willing to participate, but mostly through that person's reinsertion in society. Even if that person has committed a serious offense the time has been served and he or she deserves a chance to be part of society again.

Making the process of reinsertion into society difficult, sometimes even aggressive and traumatic, serves no purpose. That person who is trying to move on with his or her life will only be put under more stress and pressure, and coupled with a low self-esteem and depression, they become even more likely to commit another crime.

In the movie the moment Walter is closest to abusing a child again, and also of committing suicide, is exactly after Sgt. Lucas harassed him and that people at work found out about his past. Not only that but after Sgt. Lucas leaves his apartment in that scene, after telling about the 7-year-old little girl who was abused and killed, Walter sees the little girl with a red ball entering his bedroom. The sign his subconscious is thinking about doing something to a little girl.

We also see issues like how society reacts to a former convict rejoining it, with his right re-established, and how does that work overall. Even though the movie was made 12 years ago this question is still relevant as we haven't, at a society level, evolved much from that time. We see initiatives like COSA (Circle of Support and Accountability - Circulo de Suporte e Responsabilidade) in Canada that helps a released sex offender reintegrate with society while also lowering recidivism rates. It is unfortunate that it isn't a wide spread initiative.

Overall we need to start paying more attention to people who committed child sexual abuse, be them pedophiles or not, because we need to pay more attention to child abuse primary prevention. Keeping a child from being abused in the first place, and also keeping a person from being sent to prison for it, should be priority. Of course we shouldn't excuse this sort of crime while also needing to provide support for the victim, and his or her family. Still we also need to support those offender when they leave prison so we can help them not offend again.

The other topic which is highly important in the movie is the matter of whether a person can change or not. In this particular movie the offender was a pedophile who didn't think his actions were wrong. While his sexual attraction is unchangeable it doesn't mean it is evil or perverted. It does mean though that he shouldn't act on them as the actions he takes can be bad. By finding support, his therapist and Vicki and his brother-in-law, he manages to understand his mentality was wrong and he is able to change it. So yes, people do change and they can change for the better if given the chance and the support to achieve it.

Basically those are the messages from this great movie with a great acting from Kevin Bacon and all other actors and actresses. I personally couldn't help but cry on Robin's scene at park when she tells about her dad. We need to start caring more about child sexual abuse and how to prevent it from happening. After all it is always best that a child doesn't get abused in the first place. In order for that to happen though we need to change and a lot.

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