He Was a Quiet Man is about Bob Maconel (Christian Slater) a bullied loner who secretly plans to kill his co-workers…until someone else beats him to the punch. Bob saves the day by killing the shooter and becomes a hero at the office.
He Was a Quiet Man 
Directed by: Frank A. Cappello
Written by: Frank A. Cappello
Starring: Christian Slater, Elisha Cuthbert, William H. Macy
Genre: Drama, Dark Comedy
Official site: http://www.hewasaquietman.com/
Rotten Tomatoes: 79% Audience – 61% Critics
Watch: Buy the DVD
The title refers to how people often describe mass shooters after the fact. “He was a quiet man.” Bob certainly was quiet, at least before becoming the office hero, but did he have social anxiety? Let’s take a look at the film to find out.
Psychoanalysis: (Warning: Full spoilers ahead!)
The movie opens with voiceover from Bob, where we learn his inner thoughts which are disturbingly violent and misogynistic. Then at the office we hear more about his hatred of society and his violent fantasies. Bob wants to kill his co-workers because they either ignore him or bully him.
Bob is surely quiet, but it’s important to draw the distinction between having social anxiety and being antisocial. Both groups don’t talk to people and are often alone, but for very different reasons. Antisocial people hate society and want nothing to do with them, while people with social anxiety want to be a part of society but are afraid of them. Antisocial people are often mistaken for people with social anxiety because they can appear similar from the outside—as quiet loners. The only way to tell them apart is to hear their thoughts. Antisocial people have inner thoughts of violence and hating society, but people with social anxiety have inner thoughts of fear and wanting to be liked by society. Based on Bob’s disturbing views of other people, I think it’s clear he is an antisocial psychopath rather than a normal person with social anxiety.
Not only is Bob antisocial, but he is possibly also schizophrenic. He sees hallucinations such as his office building exploding, animated hummingbirds flying around, and goldfish that talk to him. This is evidence that there is something much more wrong with Bob psychologically than simply being shy.
At the office, Bob grabs his gun from his desk and is about to shoot his co-workers, when another man in the office pulls a gun and starts shooting. Bob then shoots the shooter and becomes the office hero.
I found this movie hard to take seriously at this point. The odds that someone else would shoot up the office the same day as Bob, plus the fact that nobody in the office found it alarming that Bob had a gun. That’s either bad writing, or it has to be a dream.
Then things get more and more preposterous in the aftermath of the shooting. Bob becomes adored by his former bullies, gets a promotion, and starts dating Vanessa, (Elisha Cuthbert) the woman he had a crush on, whom he saved from the shooter.
Eventually Bob’s dream starts to crumble as his co-workers turn on him and Vanessa spurns him for their boss Gene Shelby (William H. Macy). This leads Bob to return to his original plan to go on a shooting rampage in his office.
We return to the moment from the beginning of the film when Bob was thinking about shooting his co-workers. Everything that happened since then was all a dream. There is no other shooter. But instead of shooting his co-workers, Bob turns the gun on himself and commits suicide.
The problem for me was that everything happening was too preposterous not to be a dream, so when the “twist” was revealed, it wasn’t a surprise, but a relief—that the movie wasn’t as dumb as I had feared. It was intended to be a mind-bending twist like Fight Club, but it didn’t work for me.
In Bob’s final monologue before killing himself, he says:
“How else could I get your attention? All I wanted was to exist to the world. Just one person to take time to actually see me. And help me find a way out.”
This thought seems inconsistent with his previous antisocial characterization. I don’t think the character of Bob as previously established in the film would think such a thing.
“There comes a time when the diseased and the weak must be sacrificed in order to save the heard.”
From his thoughts earlier in the film, it seemed that Bob viewed the rest of society as the “diseased and weak”, not himself. He went from a schizophrenic antisocial psychopath to a sane self-conscious martyr at the end, for no real reason. You can say Bob is crazy, so his thoughts don’t need to make sense, or it could just be lazy writing.
The film closes with the media interviewing Bob’s neighbors, who say, “He was a quiet man.” Which, again, is the wrong message to take. Bob may have been “quiet”, but that’s not the reason he killed. His being quiet was a byproduct of his schizophrenia and antisocial psychopathy, which was the real reason for the shooting. When people simply describe killers as “quiet”, it creates a fear of quiet people—the belief that we are all secretly plotting something evil inside our heads. In reality, most quiet people are perfectly kind, peaceful loving people. Sure, many mass killers turn out to be quiet, but they are not killers because they are quiet, nor are they quiet because they are killers.
Behind the Scenes:
Writer/director Frank A. Cappello in the DVD commentary:
“We always say this, that if you scream in life, you probably won’t kill people. And I believe in that. I believe it is the people that we always go, ‘God, they were always so quiet, so nice.’ I guess the way to cure the problem that’s out there in the world is for people to talk. Get them to be a little noisy.”
I have to disagree with Cappello. Prisons are full of people who “scream”—gang leaders, wife beaters, rapists, and murderers. The majority of serial killers may be “quiet”, but the majority of murders are not serial killings. I understand Cappello’s reasoning. If we get antisocial psychopaths to voice their psychotic violent thoughts, then we can more easily identify them as dangerous. But that doesn’t mean all quiet people are psychotic, nor is there anything inherently wrong with being quiet.
“Sometimes the diseased and sick must be sacrificed in order to save the herd.” He was the diseased and sick. My feeling is he was the hero. Instead of taking anyone else out, he took the problem out, and he got out of the loop forever…If they don’t want to be here anymore, then leave…I had a friend once ask me, ‘Well, what if one person hurts themselves because they saw your movie?’ And I said, ‘Then I’ve done my job.’ My belief is if you’re not happy here, then we don’t need you. Just don’t take us with you.”
Again, I disagree with Cappello. Mass killers like Bob aren’t sane people, consciously choosing to kill others. They are seriously mentally ill and deeply disturbed. Sure, if only given Cappello’s two options: 1) Kill others and themselves or 2) Just kill themselves — the latter would be better. But those aren’t the only two options. Better yet would be for the mentally disturbed person to get help before harming others or themselves. If they can’t be treated medically, than they can at least be monitored in a psychiatric facility where they can’t hurt anyone.
Christian Slater did a convincing acting job of portraying an introverted character, but Bob was more than just a “quiet man”. He was a violent antisocial psychopath with schizophrenia. For that reason, I would not recommend He Was a Quiet Man for its portrayal of social anxiety disorder. I also had problems with the film as a whole—specifically the twist and the ultimate message conveyed by its writer/director.
He Was a Quiet Man as a film: 5/10
He Was a Quiet Man as a Portrayal of Social Anxiety: 2/10