Directed by Jordan Ross, The Tutor has some good moments when it tries to be a mystery thriller. Where it falters is when it uses silly plot devices that don’t seem entirely justified. I don’t blame the performances, because it is self-evident that the editing let them down. One emotional state jarringly changing to another doesn’t do justice to what Garrett Hedlund and Noah Schnapp, the two lead actors, were going for with their characters. The plot revolves around a tutor named Ethan. He often teaches wealthy kids and has apparently become famous because of his teaching skills. One fine day, he gets a tutoring gig, which would pay him a huge sum. He takes it, as his girlfriend is about to have a baby and he wants to be a provider, but soon he discovers that the boy he is tutoring has ulterior motives of his own, which threaten to destroy his peaceful life. The building engagement between the two characters is what makes The Tutor emotionally engaging, although there are several other characters that enrich the story. Let’s take a look at the characters of the tutor and the tutee:
Garrett Hedlund as Ethan
Working for a company known as “Tutornym”, Ethan often books tutoring gigs that involve teaching entitled brats who don’t take their education seriously. At best, some of them understand that it’s important to study to pass the exams. Usually, Ethan impressed the kids’ wealthy parents with his passion for teaching, which is why they hired him as a tutor. He is doing well on the personal front as well. Ethan’s girlfriend, Annie, is pregnant, and he is in a loving relationship. For some reason, they aren’t married, nor is that on the cards, but that doesn’t mean they are any less bonded. A tiny problem is that with the baby on the way, Ethan will have to ensure he makes some extra income. Apparently, he is in a purple patch and soon gets a gig where he is to teach Jackson, the son of a wealthy doctor. They would pay him handsomely and might keep him as a designated tutor through the summer, which meant that Ethan would have more than enough to provide for his family.
Why is Ethan so famous among wealthy parents? Something about his demeanor promises that he will teach passionately. He looks organized, wears nice clothes, and does not appear shabby, and the glasses add that special touch that assures the parents he has what it takes to be an educator. The fact that he is a talented tutor helps, but the company is filled with talented folks, and there is a latent charm about Ethan. It didn’t work on the kids, of course, as they didn’t seem to care about his teaching techniques. Ethan, too, doesn’t mind. He is after the cash and has a life beyond the job.
The high-paying gig begins just like any other normal job. He meets Jackson, and he impresses him with his brilliance. The boy seemed to be a math genius. Why did the parents need a tutor for the super-smart Jackson? They didn’t, in fact. Jackson’s parents were long dead, but Jackson wanted to meet Ethan to confirm something. Ethan didn’t know anything at all about Jackson’s ulterior motives, but he could clearly sense Jackson wasn’t behaving normally. It became certain only when, over the course of the week, Ethan discovered photos of himself and Annie on Jackson’s laptop. He didn’t leave the job immediately, probably because of the money that he was being showered in. On the one hand, he didn’t leave, and on the other hand, he felt disgusted with himself, for he had started to feel like he was selling himself.
Drugging Ethan and then taking indecent pictures while he was unconscious was Jackson’s way of trapping Ethan to get the only thing he was after: a confession. Ethan looked completely innocent, but the truth is that he wasn’t. He had actually murdered Jackson’s mother, Rachel, and now it was time that he was brought to justice. Jackson called Ethan to meet at the ‘spot’ where she allegedly drowned, and Ethan showed up right there. The spot was known only to Jackson, his father, and the killer, because the police files were confidential. He tried to cover this slip-up, giving his justifications to Jackson, but it became clear he was guilty.
We start to see Ethan in a completely different light. The responsible and diligent tutor suddenly became an untrustworthy and volatile maniac. Jackson’s mother saw right through him when she ended up entangled in an affair with him ten years ago. She saw in Ethan a man who lived to be part of an elite part of the world. He was addicted to the fantasy of being wealthy. The best he could do was pretend to be of higher value than he actually was. Maybe it was this bottled enthusiasm in his eyes that charmed the wealthy parents who let him be around the kids, and he got a chance to roam around the grand mansions, living out his fantasies. He killed Rachel because she was pregnant, and it would have become complicated for him to get tied to someone who knew him to the core.
Noah Schnapp as Jackson
Jackson appears to be a weird kid, to put it bluntly. When he first met Ethan, he gave off the appearance of a savant. Maybe he was. It can be surmised that he did have mental health issues, but with the help of his friends, he ensured that he got to the bottom of the case. His methods are questionable, but they are not as severe as Ethan’s actions. Ethan should have surrendered to the police, but he chose to lie. As there was no concrete evidence, he thought he had a second chance at life. Jackson was seven when his mother died. He didn’t understand it back then, but now he knew how he could trap Ethan and get him to confess to the crime.
At first, he made Ethan feel at ease. To not let him suspect that the mansion he was teaching in was his friend’s place, he called him at a time when the parents were away. Jackson’s friends and cousin even arranged for an actor to act as Jackson’s father in front of Ethan. The tactic worked, as Ethan was visibly disturbed when he couldn’t figure out Jackson’s plan. The indecent pictures of Ethan staged by Jackson after he drugged him were like the final nail in the coffin. Ethan was trapped. If Jackson’s ultimate goal was to destroy Ethan’s carefully crafted existence, he had succeeded.
Ethan’s girlfriend suspected him of cheating, the police were after him, and he lost his job at “Tutornym”. Jackson didn’t let Ethan walk away so easily. He wanted to shake Ethan to the core, which is why he called him to the ‘spot’. This is when he read his late mother’s diary to Ethan, where she described him as a disgusting “interloper”, shedding light on Ethan’s insecurities and dark corners of his psyche. It was unbearable for Ethan, which is why he killed Jackson’s cousin and went after Jackson. Following Ethan’s tracker, Annie arrived right when Ethan was about to murder Jackson. Ethan got distracted, and Jackson shot him, and Ethan fell at the same spot where Rachel drowned. Jackson had his revenge—only in his mind, though. Ethan’s corpse was never recovered because he was still alive, trying to live out his fantasies by charming other wealthy parents. It is possible that Jackson and Ethan meet again, and Jackson would try to bring him to justice, but the odds are unlikely.