Sunday, March 04, 2012

"We Need to Talk About Kevin": British film of Shriver's novel (US setting) provides disturbing interpretation of violent teen's motives

The new film by Lynne Ramsay, “We Need to Talk About Kevin”, premiered in the DC area and probably many cities the Friday after the tragic school incident near Cleveland, Ohio. I am sure that’s a coincidence, and the film takes a different track on this problem that what we would know from Columbine. (The film opened in the UK in October and was a hit at Cannes.)

The, based on the novel by Lionel Shriver, is set up as a choppy, unsettling thriller, attempting to track Kevin’s issues back to his relationship with his adventurous mother Eva played masterfully by Tilda Swinton. In the opening, we’re shown bodies crammed in a pit covered in red, as if this were a pit in hell; it’s a while before we can figure out that it’s the tomato throwing at Bunol, Spain (or you have to look it up later). 
Is the mother herself a nihilist?  Well, she and her husband bring Kevin into the world in their working-class Connecticut home.  Eva is no longer doing so well from her travel books and takes a low-paying job.  In a series of back-and-forth short scenes, we learn that young Kevin (Jasper Newell) is always wearing diapers because he refused toilet training and we also learn he really can do the math and speak. He’s not exactly autistic in the usual clinical sense.  In time, the film cuts to the teen years and Kevin (Ezra Miller) has taken up archery (with the blessing of his flaccid father played by John C. Reilly) and could actually be a gifted charismatic kid ("I;m a growing boy!") if he wanted to be.  Instead, he seems to want to explore the borders of evil and irrevocability.
The parents have a second child, a little girl, and expect Kevin to play big brother.  He, of course, resents the loss of attention and the responsibility brought on by the family-building acts of his parents.  One day when he’s entrusted to babysit her, she loses an eye.

The film jags back and forth, letting us know in advance that the end will not be pretty – since we learn of the jailhouse visits.  I am only left with introspection – why, for example, did grade school teachers write on my own report cards that I did not do enough for myself?  The film does portray a tragedy.

It's interesting how the film makes the facial features of Tilda Swinton's character resemble those of Kevin, both as a boy and as a teen.  

The film has many British production companies (including Film 4), despite the US setting.  The distributor, Oscilloscope, seems to have taken over from the work Warner Independent Pictures used to release.  Why doesn’t Time Warner bring the indie brand back?  The link is here
I’m reminded of a film “Elephant” by Gus Van Sant, from Fine Line in 2003.  That film (set in Portland, OR) really was disturbing as there were two “bad seeds” with misleading gay overtones.  I recall seeing that at the Avalon in Washington. I’m also reminded of Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games”, made in Austria in 1997 and remade for Warner Independent Pictures in 2006, with Michael Pitt. I have seen on TV the 1956 film for WB by Mervyn Leroy, "The Bad Seed", based on the novel by William March. Unfortunately, I've also seen "Orphan" (2009). "About" has a link on this sort of film here.

Picture: Worcester, MA, my picture, similar to setting of film.  

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