' ' Cinema Romantico: We Need To Talk About Kevin

Monday, July 16, 2012

We Need To Talk About Kevin

There is a Pixar movie out right now that supposedly tells us what it means to be "Brave." Fiddlesticks. Do you want to know who's brave? I'll tell you who's brave. Tilda Swinton is brave. Tilda Swinton is climbing cinematic mountains without oxygen just to prove she can. If they had a Movie Fear Factor no one else would even enter because Tilda Swinton would just look at them with open arms and say "What?" Do you remember in The Smog Strangler episode of "Seinfeld" where Kramer meets the "aspiring" actress who yearns to play Eva Braun? Swinton is the only actress currently going who would willingly play Eva Braun. In "Julia" she played a black-out drunk who kidnapped a kid. In "I Am Love" she played a mother who shunned her family on account of affair. And now here is "We Need To Talk About Kevin," a film in which she plays a mother of a son responsible for a Columbine-esque school shooting.

Swinton did not earn an Oscar nod for this role and it caused a bit of consternation. Yet, now having seen the film, I understand completely why she did not receive a nomination. It's not that she wasn't phenomenal - because she is - but because to nominate her would have meant forcing everyone to re-live the experience of "We Need To Talk About Kevin." When this film ended I felt weird. I felt like I hadn't eaten (even though I had). I felt light-headed. I felt like taking a shower, but instead listened to Kylie Minogue because nothing makes me happier than Kylie Minogue's music and, dammit, I needed to be happy again.

This film, directed by Scottish (just like Merida!) filmmaker Lynne Ramsay, pretty damn brave herself, skirts around in time, flashing back and then forward again, in the manner of the work of Alejandro González Iñárritu, presenting various images that in spite of their apparent randomness gracefully coalesce to show us what's going on even if we often feel as if we don't know what's going on. What's going on is (much) less a social drama than a movie as a waking nightmare, teetering on the edge of a monster movie.

Kevin, the son of the title, is played by Rock Duer as a toddler, by Jasper Newell as a pre-teen and by Ezra Miller as a teenager, and, more or less, at each stage he is presented as a vicious manipulator engaged in a war of wills with his ill-equipped mother. He seems hell-bent on breaking her, going so far as to manipulate his own father (John C. Reilly) into unwittingly assist his cause, and succeeds mightily as we see from the present-day passages in which she barely manages to go on living. This child, whether wearing diapers past the point of reasonability or worse, often comes across so insidiously macabre you think it's exagerrated until you recall this character is completely in line with descriptions that emerged about Eric Harris post-Columbine. And then you just feel sick to your stomach.

It's less, though, a movie about a school shooting than it is about a woman not fit to raise a child who has a child who is not fit to be raised. Is it her fault? Did her chilly inability to relate to this infant shape him into someone with a chilly inability to relate to anyone at all in a real way? The fact that the film never really addresses any of these questions head-on not only leaves it open to interpretation, it leaves us with the sensation that they are entirely unanswerable. "Things without all remedy should be without regard: what's done, is done."

 I don't feel so good again. I need to go listen to some Kylie.


Anonymous said...

"Tilda Swinton is climbing cinematic mountains without oxygen just to prove she can." I LOVE your writing Nick, seriously!!

I didn't know the director was Scottish, very interesting. I had trepidation about watching this movie, and your reaction about light-headed-ness, etc. is what I was afraid of. Still I WANT to see this, I think Tilda is just phenomenal (she's Scottish too isn't she?), I haven't seen a bad performance out of her yet.

That Ezra Miller also looks sooo darn creepy in the poster/trailer, he gives me the hibby jibbies!!

The title of this movie is brilliant as well, it gives me the chills just thinking about it.

Nick Prigge said...

Thanks, Ruth! I appreciate that!

It is a really good movie. Really, really good. But I promise you, you will feel not quite right when it's over.

Andrew K. said...

I did/do like this one, but I still think of some criticisms thrown about that I can't argue with. The film does tend to treat Kevin's potential diabolical nature as something of a horror-villain trope in that it's not examined, which is possibly just indicative of how ineffable it is, but I like things explains and it doesn't HURT the film essentially for me, but it has bugged me all these months.

And, how fantastic is Ezra Miller? Sure, Tilda is good, but Ezra Miller!!! Also, seconded, the first paragraph of Ruth above (obviously).

Nick Prigge said...

Ezra Miller is good. True. And I should have pointed that out. I think I was just so shaken by his character that I forgot to (or couldn't make myself) mention it. When that shot arrives of his father and his sister in the yard (you know the shot)......my jaw LITERALLY fell open. Just......