The most painfully human moment in Karyn Kusama’s Destroyer (2018) is near the end, when protagonist Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman), about as weathered and beaten down as a person can get, thinks back on one of the few memories she has of spending time with her now estranged daughter. They went camping together, out in the middle of nowhere, and after being caught in an unexpected snowstorm, Erin carried her daughter on her back as they walked to safety. For Erin, it’s a rare moment where she did the right thing, the strong and brave thing. But for her daughter, it was an example of her mother’s unstable, unreliable mind—why did she ever think that it was a good idea to go in the first place?
We don’t know a lot about Erin, but we do know that her life is a series of bad decisions. She should have never become a cop. She should have never gotten romantically involved with her undercover partner. And, obviously, she should have never talked him into keeping the money from the bank robbery they were assigned to stop, a decision so disastrous the aftershocks are still felt more than a decade later.
Her lips often drawn back in a feral snarl, Erin doesn’t want understanding or forgiveness, and she definitely doesn’t want pity. All we know about what happened to her in the sixteen years between the bank robbery and now is that she’s been worn down to nothing but skin, hair, and rage. She could have, should have walked away upon hearing the news that the mastermind behind the robbery, the man who killed her lover and quashed her small, pitifully simple dreams, has come back to town. But one thing we know about Erin is that she’s an expert in bad decisions. She knows that about herself, and somehow, eventually finds redemption and peace in it.