Por Thozhil (2023): Trauma and its effects on the human psyche are extraordinarily fascinating and unpredictable. Murder mysteries have long been associated with trauma, where the filmmakers have often shown traumatic incidents from the life of the killers to give the audience an insight into their minds and as a probable explanation of why they have turned out as they have. In many cases, a killer’s trauma forms their motive, and a ruthless killer without any trauma to fall back on often makes the scariest of the villains. Trauma, therefore, in a way, gives the audience a chance to judge the perpetrator and see them in a different light.
Por Thozhil (2023), the recent Tamil thriller by Vignesh Raja, has quite brilliantly used the theme of trauma to portray the villains. Despite having two villains who commit almost identical crimes, the audience cannot equate them simply because of how their past has been told and shown. On one hand, we have Kennedy, a victim of his father’s irrational anger who killed innocent women to keep his father’s abuse at bay. His first murder was accidental, and when he realized that this was the only way he could avoid his father’s unfair rage, he kept doing so until his father died.
On the other hand, we have Muthu, the copycat killer whose motive is very different. He’s also someone who has a history of abuse, but that is really not focused on much. We get a glimpse into how terrible his married life was as his wife constantly shouted at him for not working and slept with someone else right in front of his eyes. There is a mention of his mother being a whore, but there is no significant portrayal of trauma, no showing of him trying to run away from a past that has turned him into a killer.
Muthu’s character here can remind one of Rakesh Mahadkar in Ek Tha Villain, the guy always getting shouted at by his wife, so he took it out on other women who triggered him somehow. He could not stand up to his actual abuser, which is the case with many abuse victims, so he took his anger out by murdering innocent women. The portrayal of abuse was pretty clear there, but the character did not evoke much sympathy.
The same thing happens with Muthu here. When his story is told, it seems like an unworthy guy is getting shouted at by his wife, and instead of going on a killing spree, he should be getting his life together. However, your perspective toward him changes when you get an insight into Kennedy’s life and what drove him to kill almost immediately. So, despite being killers and victims of abuse, one character appears as a human being who deserves redemption, and the other appears as a monster with no hope left.
The primary thing to keep in mind here is that Kennedy had been a victim of parental abuse. Going through parental violence has to be the worst among all kinds of abuses and traumas that one can endure because your family is supposed to be your safe haven. So, when every night Kennedy gets beaten and can only sleep in peace when there is an unsolvable murder, we are bound to sympathize with him.
If his father were different, his childhood would have been different, and he would not have had to kill after all. His extreme dedication to not turn out like his father shows how his motive as a killer was only fuelled by his trauma and nothing else. When you make parental trauma the driving factor behind a character’s action and show him to change once the parent is gone, that character is bound to get sympathy.
Kennedy is even shown to break the wheel of generational violence by not abusing his his son like his father did. That is a rare quality that very few victims of abuse can attain, making the character so humane. The audience would almost want him to be forgiven despite his murders being gruesome and the victims completely innocent.
When we come to Muthu, he’s shown as a dirty, heavier person who looks scary. The way he is shown, from his face to his way of eating, everything screams monster. His very depiction is monstrous, and when we witness his wife shouting at him and then going to sleep with another guy, we understand his rage, but that alone is not sufficient to evoke sympathy or understanding from the audience. We get where he is coming from, but he becomes another misogynistic jerk who failed as a husband and now kills women with dimples because, apparently, his wife ruined his life. He probably killed his wife and her lover as well, but that is not explicitly shown, and no remorse is shown in his character, making him someone beyond saving.
The portrayal of the characters also varies a lot and affects the audience’s mind. Kennedy’s childhood abuse turned him into an obsessive perfectionist. Everything at his house is perfectly placed and free of dirt and dust. Conversely, Muthu lives like a dirty animal, eats without manners, and drives a car that makes a strange noise when going in reverse. All these details also shape the audiences’ perspective toward the characters. Parental abuse is one of the highest forms of violence a child can endure.
It is something no child should have to go through, but unfortunately, the majority of children face. By presenting the trauma of Kennedy because of the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father, the film humanizes him. We see him as a scared son grasping at the last straws instead of a killer who ruthlessly killed innocent and unsuspecting women.
Moreover, the fact that he has done everything in his power to turn out a father totally unlike his own also elevates his character beyond a murderer. However, Muthu is not given that privilege. Though he, too, has been abused, his abuser seems to be nothing when compared to Kennedy’s father. Besides, Muthu seems to exude physical superiority over his victims, and he is not shown to have any emotional turmoil regarding killing, showcasing that his character is probably bigger than his trauma and he’s nothing more than a psychotic serial killer.
The portrayal of the two characters’ deaths also serves as a vital factor that builds up the audiences’ perspective toward them. While Kennedy’s suicide only proves that he might have been decent if not for the trauma and abuse, the killing of Muthu in the hands of DSP Prakash shows how he really had no hope left. Despite trauma being the driving factor behind the shaping of both these characters, one’s death provokes a tinge of sadness and the other’s a sigh of relief. Trauma alone could evoke a smidge of sympathy in Muthu as, at some point, the film made it evident that his trauma had become an excuse for him to continue these killings. Through the lenses of parental abuse and spousal violence, one killer dies as a human, and the other one is killed as a monster.