Directed by John Lee Hancock ( The Blind Side ) and starring three Top A-List actors (Denzel Washington, Rami Malek and Jared Leto), The Little Things is an interesting twist on the crime scene suspense genre, dubbed by some as neo-noir, genre highlighted by the prolific David Fincher and his classics Seven and Zodiac .
Now, if this so-called twist, the serial killers, the accidental murders, the obsessions and traps, you are still wondering what is going on at the end of this film, do not worry. It is time for The Little Things: Explained.
1 | Joe Deacon is the killer?
Let’s get straight to the point. One of the big surprises of this film is the moment in which it is revealed that of the three young women murdered under the bridge, only two were there when the police arrived. The third, who was not next to the other two, called Mary Roberts (Anna McKitrick) was accidentally killed by Deacon, when in the middle of the search of the crime scene, the girl appeared between the bushes and the detective, thinking that it was the killer behind him, shot her on the chest.
Then, in a flashback scene we see that Sal (Chris Rizoli) and coroner Flo Dunigan (Michael Hyatt) covered up for Deacon, who in a process of anxiety generated by his obsession, ended up losing his marriage to Marsha, and suffering a heart attack, before moving on to Kern County, working as a Sheriff.
2 | Where and when do the events of The Little Things take place?
One of the curiosities that first comes to mind in the film is that there are no cell phones, the forensic technique is very lousy, and the computers still work on MS-DOS. Obviously, this film is located before the popularization of Windows, so together with other clues, such as the dates in the newspapers, we can place the movie in 1990.
And considering that the murder of the three girls that obsesses Deacon occurred 5 years earlier, this would occur in 1985.
Now, the killings occur in the Los Angeles area, and what they call “The North,” in which they include Kern County, where Deacon was exiled, is not as far north as you – someone who is not an American living in California – might think. Actually, Kern County is a not that far from Los Angeles, about 180 kilometers (111 miles) away, which can be covered in less than two hours on the I-5.
3 | Did Albert Sparma actually kill the prostitutes and then the girls, including Rhonda Rathbun?
Although the film is generally ambiguous in this regard, the circumstantial evidence collected by Deacon indicates that it was indeed Sparma.
The evidence, the high mileage, the newspaper clippings, the Busch beer, the fast food, the way Tina recognized him, the AAA repair service job and most of all, the erection Sparma had when he saw the photographs of the murdered girls, made Deacon conclude that Sparma was indeed the murderer.
4 | Is there a possibility that Sparma wasn’t the killer?
It could be concluded that indeed, there is no overwhelmingly solid evidence that he is the murderer, but using the laws of probability, it is simply impossible that Sparma was not involved in the murders.
The other kind of crazy option, would be for Sparma to be so obsessed with murder that he knew all those details, and tried to emulate them. The location of the girl on the highway was not leaked to the press, but Sparma had a radio with the police frequencies. Tina partially identified him, but could have been suggested by seeing him handcuffed.
Now, if perhaps individually the evidence is not conclusive, the sum of them, including the fingerprints, the dental marks and the psychological profile that the FBI later took, which partially coincided with Sparma, indicate that in fact, he was the murderer. Two are coincidence, but ten?
5 | Why did Sparma take Baxter to the desert?
If there is any additional proof that Sparma is the murderer, it is the moment when he manipulates Baxter into the desert. Sparma waits for Deacon to get out of the car, to approach Baxter. Sparma knows that Deacon is sure and plenty convinced that he is the murderer, so much Deacon would not hesitate to murder him if he was in Baxter’s shoes.
However, Baxter is not so sure and Sparma knows it. Sparma thinks he can have fun with Baxter by making him believe that he is going to reveal the place where the dead girl is, but making him fail time after time, until he is convinced that he was not the real killer. That’s his game, make Baxter hesitate, to have doubts.
Yet further proof that Sparma is the murderer is that he cannot help but relish the idea that he can murder Baxter’s wife and two daughters. At that moment, when he enjoyed the idea, and that the detective consequently beat him with the shovel, killing him, he – Sparma- showed himself as he is. Or as he was.
6 | What does the end of The Little Things mean? What happens to the red barrette?
In the end Deacon, in an act of reparation for those who ever helped him, decides to completely cover up Baxter, burying Sparma’s corpse and emptying his apartment. Deacon wants Baxter to enjoy his family, his wife and two daughters, and not throw his life away the way he did.
So he sends her that final message where he says “We are not angels”, along with a red barrette.
Seeing the evidence and the message, Baxter can start his life anew thinking that he did indeed take the life of a murderer, and not an innocent man. However, in the last shots we see that Deacon actually bought the barrette, he didn’t find it in Sparma’s things.
The point is, Deacon wasn’t going to let Baxter destroy his life, and he was willing to do anything to get it, even lie to him.
7 | Is there a chance that Stan Peters was the real killer?
The point with the doubt about Stan Peters is that he, in effect, committed suicide after being confronted by the police about the dead girls and especially Mary Roberts, to whose name he reacted strangely. But we know that Mary Roberts was accidentally killed by Deacon, not Peters.
Stan Peters does not convey the security that the driver who followed Tina had, and the reason for his suicide would simply he was not ready to go to jail, taking into account the proclivity of the police to tag him as guilty. The reaction to Mary Roberts was perhaps because at some point he met her, followed her and possibly even tried to touch her, and if the police found this they would not hesitate for a second to send him to the dungeon.
8 | What is the message of the movie?
The twist of this film is that more than a quest to find a murderer, it is a character study, on how obsession can destroy someone’s life, and how by learning from the mistakes of others, we can move on, despite our faults
And perhaps even more so, how difficult it is to define someone’s innocence and guilt in absolute terms. Deacon took the life of Mary Roberts, but saved Baxter, and his wife and two daughters as well. There was no solid evidence that Sparma was the killer, but his fondness for female pain revealed him to Baxter.
It’s the little things, rescuing a friend from disaster, or demonstrating your sadistic nature in a few words, that ultimately reveal who the hero is, who the villain is, and who, ultimately, are the ones who deserve redemption.
Questions? Annotations? More doubts? The comments section is open just below this post so feel free to use it. See you in the next installment of Ending Explained here at El Sabanero X.