Plot points in Down Terrace
September 29, 2011 8:52 AM   Subscribe

Anyone seen the English film Down Terrace?

It's embarrassing to need to have a major plot point of a film I watched closely explained to me, but here goes. [SPOILERS, obviously.]

Toward the end of the film, there's a scene between Karl, the ostensible protagonist, and his mother Maggie. Maggie says that if the baby Valda is carrying is Karl's, the baby can come live with them. As for Valda, she says, she'll leave Karl "like all the rest." Karl says "what are you talking about?" Maggie then explains that when Karl was a baby, things were "different," and they "couldn't help babies like they do now," and something went wrong in the incubator, though she's not sure what -- and that this somehow explains "all the business" with Karl's dad and his uncle Eric. The two of them then lie down on the bed as he cries.

Immediately following this, Karl and Valda kill both of Karl's parents, presumably closing the cycle of violence, and the film ends.

What did Maggie tell Karl?
posted by eugenen to Media & Arts (1 answer total)
In case it's of any help, I just transcribed the conversation in question:
___ ___ ___ ___

Karl: [Referring to Bill] How can you stand him? He's a fucking nightmare!

Maggie: No, he's not a nightmare, actually Karl.

Karl: He's a fucking nightmare!

Maggie: Calm down. It's not him, Karl. It's you. I mean, why don't you just get a blood test, and then if the baby's yours it could come and live here. It'll work out; it'll be fine.

Karl: What about Valda?

Maggie: Oh, Valda. Darling, she'd be like all the rest. She'll leave you.

Karl: What are you talking about?

Maggie: Oh, god. When you was little, right? When you was born it was very different then, Karl, and they, you know, they couldn't help babies out like they do now—and there was something wrong, something went wrong, I don't know. The incubator—oh, god knows what went on, really. I'm sure that's why, you know, all this business about Eric—all this business about Eric—and you know your dad... we had nothing to do with that. Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't want to tell you. Come here, come. I tell you what—I'll get you your pills, eh? You need a nice lie down.
___ ___ ___ ___

I also wondered about this scene when I watched the film a few weeks ago, and came to the conclusion that Maggie isn't actually telling Karl any real, plot-twisty, facts here (i.e. there's no hard link between an incubator incident and the events now unfolding); what she's really telling Karl is that her loyalty lies with Bill (his father, who he correctly suspects is trying to have him killed) and not him. She's saying, in essence: I've always felt there's something wrong with you/I pity you, but don't really love you/You can't rely on me to protect you from your father, and in fact, your father and I are complicit in the other killings, including Eric's murder, and—most likely—the attempt on your own life.

At first I wondered if Maggie's revelation/confession was about something empirically true—perhaps he was deprived of oxygen as an infant and that led to his... problems? But I don't think that's the case: Karl is of average—perhaps even above average—intelligence, and whatever behavioural problems (rage, anxiety, and general immaturity) he suffers from are easily explained by a childhood spent in the care of criminals and psychopaths. So I think Maggie's confession is really just about her own feelings towards him: whatever happened when he was a baby (premature birth or whatnot) has become emblematic of her feelings of regret that she ever had him and her view of him as broken and burdensome. (In an earlier scene, Maggie says to Bill, "You know, I liked it better when it was just you and me".)

Karl's crying in despair because he realises that not only won't his mother save him, in order to save himself he's going to have to kill both his parents.

And as for why Maggie's speech is so cryptic? Well, after seeing Ben Wheatley's new film, Kill List (which takes the dark comedy, criminal drama and 'social realism'-ism of Down Terrace and combines it with surreal, occult, Lynchian horror) and a Q&A with the director, I can tell you that Wheatley is absolutely not above inserting mysterious, unknowable elements just to fuck with his audience.
posted by hot soup girl at 11:35 AM on September 29, 2011

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