Feature

Stoker Explained: Humans- The Most Dangerous Predator

At first glance, Stoker might appear as an incestuous story of an uncle’s obsession with his niece and the deadly charisma he wields to get what he wants. All of that underlies a story of one’s buried instincts and how they surface no matter how long they have been suppressed. It’s a twisted coming-of-age story of a person embracing their true nature, finally discovering the lust for taking a life, feeling the thrill of laying a trap for a prey, and waiting to kill them at the right moment. No, it’s not a story of a psychopath– it’s the origin story of a deadly predator whose hunger for death is not driven by any emotion or want. 

The Story of Stoker

Stoker is a story about India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) losing her father, Richard (Dermot Mulroney), soon after her 18th birthday, and meeting her uncle, Charlie (Matthew Goode), for the first time in her life. While her mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman), is instantly taken by the charisma of Charlie, India is wary of the newcomer and her uncle gives very manipulative vibes as he woos both India and her mother in unique ways. While Evelyn is easily swayed by his youthful aura, it is India that Charlie is actually focused on. 

We learn that Charlie spent all his life in a mental institution because as a young child, he buried his little brother Jonathan alive in a sandbox. Over the years, he found a new object for his obsession- India, his brother’s daughter. While it is never shown on screen, it is obvious Richard talked to him about India during his visits, at least in the beginning. But he soon realized that Charlie was getting obsessed with India over a few similarities they shared, like their aversion to being touched. So, when Charlie is discharged, on India’s 18th birthday, Richard plans to send him away to New York, only for his enraged younger brother to stone him to death for trying to separate him from India. 

Throughout his time at the institution, Charlie sent India numerous letters faking that he was on a world tour because of his profession of photography. But while his letters never made it to India because of Richard, he managed to have one constant connection to her- by sending her childish saddle shoes on her every birthday via the housemaid, Mrs. McGarrick, though India thought they were from her father. 

Stoker
Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

Slowly but steadily and then through the shared act of murder, Charlie and India grow closer. While Evelyn is seeking a romantic partner, India is attracted to Charlie because of how his presence and actions are stirring her dormant violent tendencies. She then seemingly forgives Charlie for killing her father and agrees to go with him to New York now that she is of age. When Evelyn tries to interfere, out of jealousy and not concern for her daughter, Charlie proceeds to kill her leading India to shoot him and kill him. Does India suddenly care for Evelyn despite her less-than motherly behavior towards her? Didn’t India find a kindred spirit in Charlie and was attracted to his obsession with her? Well, the answer is a little complicated. 

Who is the Real Psychopath?

From the looks of things in Stoker, it is easy to peg both Charlie and India as psychopaths. But the latter is very different from her deranged uncle. Charlie was driven by his emotions whenever he killed and didn’t necessarily enjoy the act of murdering someone. He killed his brother Jonathan out of jealousy and to be Richard’s only center of attention. He killed Richard because he was keeping him away from his new object of obsession- India. It is the same reason that led to the murders of Mrs. McGarrick and Aunt Gin. His reactions to the moments that spurred him to kill were instantaneous and were uncontrolled. 

Charlie wanted India to accompany him on his obsessive path of deranged emotions, as an equal partner, but India held no such attachment to her uncle. Unlike Charlie, she is no psychopath as she is even bereft of the simmering rage and easy charisma that are typical signs of one. Her true identity is that she is a human predator. And her father was aware of it or at least he thought she was like Charlie, unaware that she is far worse than he is. He saw similarities between the two and tried his best to suppress India’s innate desire to maim and kill by giving her the alternative to hunt animals. It is indirectly specified in Stoker, that while Richard wasn’t a big fan of hunting, he did it for India to keep her from doing something worse. This is the reason he deliberately kept Charlie away from her- not just because his brother would be dangerous to his family but as his presence would fully awaken India’s deadly predatorial impulses. 

Stoker
Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

And Charlie’s presence does evoke a side of her that she never knew she possessed.

“Have you ever seen a photograph of yourself, taken when you didn’t know you were being photographed, from an angle you don’t get to see when you look in the mirror, and you think…that’s me…that’s also me?” 

While she is indeed affected by Charlie’s closeness and even disturbed by him seducing her mother when she seeks out her schoolmate Whip, it’s not because she is jealous, it’s because she is chasing emotions she never felt, trying to understand the brewing feelings caused by Charlie’s presence. It is helping Charlie in killing Whip that breaks her blank emotional state and allows her to realize that what she is feeling is beyond lust or mere attraction. In the scene of Whips’ murder, India holds down his hands to herself almost intimately as Charlie kills him. While her expression is initially misleading, it soon becomes apparent that the sick sight of witnessing a life taken in front of her was an invigorating experience for her and was aroused by it.

Signs that India is a human predator are there from the beginning in Stoker, especially the nature documentaries often running in the background where an animal circles its prey for hours, never losing patience, as it waits for the perfect moment to strike. While it initially feels like hints of Charlie’s already obvious intentions, they are actually subtle clues to how India perceives the world around her. Charlie kills for her, hoping that she will be attracted to him because he has killed to be with her. But instead of sparking the fire of lust and desire in India, his acts only work to prep the stage for the cold, emotionless, and calculated killer in her. While she is his object of desire, he is just her prey. Even the revelation that he killed her father didn’t trigger an emotional response from her. While there is no denying that India was attracted to her uncle, the thrill in killing the killer, the man who managed to murder four people without breaking a sweat, was a thrill that trumped all her other reactions. 

India waits for the perfect moment to kill Charlie, luring him into a false sense of security, just like her father taught her during their hunting trips. She leaves her mother alive, not because she loves her but as in her eyes, Evelyn is not challenging enough to be her prey. Unlike Charlie, who kills in his fits of rage, attacks for no reason. She kills because she desires to, not because she has to for a specific reason. She is a predator who relishes the act of hunting and trapping her prey, before slowly going about the self-appointed task of killing them.