Suburbicon: A Racial Drama or Suspenseful Thriller? Or Neither?

Old movie camera, consisting of a tripod, lens, film reels and clapperboards

Old movie camera, consisting of a tripod, lens, film reels and clapperboards

Mitchell Rolling

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A cross between a drama of racial tensions in the American south during the 1950’s and a thriller involving an affair and the murder of a wife and mother, George Clooney’s Suburbicon displayed everything a movie of its genre should; except humor, excitement, suspense, and comprehension.

Suburbicon starts with an awkward scene attempting to be a comedic recreation of a 1950’s white suburban neighborhood and their reaction to an African-American family moving in, the Meyer’s. It wasn’t because of the overtly racist response that the scene and the story-line of the Meyers fell flat; it was because it was only this overtly racist reaction that made up the movies interaction with them.

As viewers, we never get to know the Meyers on a personal level, a family based on real people who moved to Levittown, PA in 1957. Similar to actual events, the movie showed the town inhabitants gathering around the Meyer’s house each night and singing songs and throwing objects at it to intimidate them.

But that’s it. I only remember one or two scenes with Mr. Meyer’s even in it, and Mrs. Meyer’s only talks a few times – to the mailman who mistakes her for a servant, to a grocery store manager charging her twenty dollars for bread, and to her son, telling him to come inside.

Meanwhile, the other Suburbicon plot took off just a few scenes after introducing us to the Meyers. Nicky Lodge wakes up to his dad, Gardner, who brings him downstairs to two men who have broken into their house. After the subsequent murder of his mother, Rose, Nicky finds out that it was his father and aunt Margaret who were responsible.

This discovery was the reason for Suburbicon being labeled a mystery film, and it was given away within the first quarter of the movie. We merely learn more about the situation as the movie progresses – that they wanted her life insurance money to move away to Aruba, that they were willing to kill more people to do so, including their son, and so on.

The new commotion in the town caused many of the inhabitants to wonder what happened to their peaceful dwelling. And this is what I’ve come to assume as George Clooney’s main theme; that as white people cause mayhem and murder each other, racism blinds the townspeople from it all. This theme was seen especially when Matt Damon chases down an insurance policy agent in the middle of the street and kills him with a metal fireplace poker, all going undetected because the town inhabitants are too busy rioting outside of the Meyer’s house.

But with the lack of character development of both the Meyer’s and the Lodge’s, the boring and dull scenes, and a completely incoherent plot that failed to tie the families together, Clooney’s theme gets bogged down by the end. The movie drags along without the final “ah-ha!” conclusion.

The movie ends with a random scene showing the mob attempting to enter the Meyer’s house – with one man who easily could have gone through a window but simply decided to hang a Confederate flag instead – and Gardner Lodge dying of a poisoned PB&J sandwich. Nicky Lodge just walked out and started playing catch with the Meyers’ son, and the movie faded out.

If the plot seems at all confusing to you, it’s because it is. Suburbicon had some obvious hints to today’s political discourse, and that is why I believe Clooney failed in detailing an African-American family’s experience in Levittown, PA. He was making a movie about today by using a story from the past.