Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Lynne Ramsay Has A Talk About Kevin

Not everyone falls in love with We Need To Talk About Kevin (Kevin), directed by Lynne Ramsay. On one hand, the arthouse indie is a portrait of hopelessness burdened by its strangely realistic sense of urban macabre. On the other, it's a triumph for Scottish actress Tilda Swinton (Chronicles Of Narnia, Michael Clayton) and everyone involved in the difficult project in terms of its ambition.

Right. It's not a popcorn movie. Instead, it's a movie that asks viewers to sit back slack-jawed as if medicated. And for most people, the effects of feeling dazed lingers on for days after the viewing.

As a result, it's hard to 'like' and harder to forget. It's 112 minutes of continuous dread as the film as follows Eva Khatchadourian, who is barely hanging onto to her sanity after she is left shaken to near helplessness. The tragedy is what director Ramsay leads us to find out as she flips back and forth between tight vignettes that cobble together the past, near past, and present.

Kevin is a movie about a natural-born sociopath and his mother.

All anybody knows about about the tragedy that has left her in ruin is that is is bad. It's bad enough that Eva is a shell of a once vibrant and active travel agent, epitomized by her foray deep into the heart of the La Tomatina, the famed tomato festival in Buñol, Spain.

One can immediately imagine the endless escapades and adventures she must have experienced. All that changed when she met Franklin (John C. Reilly). After the couple have a brief but seemingly lighthearted fling-to-marriage ride, Eva has a son who will create a chasm between the two.

Everything about the infant for Eva is a struggle. Everything about the infant for Franklin is easy. At first blush, it isn't easy to tell whether Eva is suffering from postpartum depression after sacrificing her career for the optimistic Franklin to become a head of household or if the boy was just born bad.

It's also difficult to not think of the character Jacob Barber in the book Defending Jacob by William Landay and whether or not there is a "murder gene" that can deliver up a deadly dose of predestination. Except Jacob was a likable, seemingly affable preteen. Here, there is something clearly wrong with Kevin (played by multiple actors, and ending with a terrifying portrayal by Enza Miller) from the onset.

If the chronic screaming anytime his mother holds him or his defiance in not rolling a ball to her leaves you unconvinced, then snippets of life as he gets older (6-8 years of age) will leave you in disbelief. The diaper he wears (with his ignorant and accepting father all too happy to enable it) is only a starter.

With his escalating but never over-the-top predisposition toward manipulation and cruelty, it's impossible not to feel a stomach drop when Eva shares that she is having another baby. When she asks Kevin if he ever wanted somebody else around, he makes a point to say he wouldn't like it. In an effort to appease him, she suggests he might get used to it. He answers her with the creepy line in the trailer.

At the same time, the film gives equal weight to the victimhood Eva endures in the present. She is not only scarred by whatever occurred, but she is obviously blamed, shunned and abused in the community where she is trying to piece her life back together.

Some reviewers have said the character suffers from paranoia, but don't buy it for a minute. It's not paranoia if most people really are out to get you. But what is even more troubling here is her sense of overwhelming guilt, even though she was the only one who saw something wrong from the start.

A couple graphs about director Lynne Ramsay and the source material. 

Ramsay is a Scottish film director, writer, and producer best known for her films Ratcatcher, Morvern Callar (which also included Swinton), and now this one. It has not been uncommon for her to use the craft to explore grief, guilt and death since graduating from the United Kingdom's National Film and Television School. She has also directed several shorts, frequently filming material that she has written.

In this case, Ramsay wrote the screenplay based on the almost 10-year- novel with the same name. The novel was written by Lionel Shriver. The story was originally told in first person as a series of letters that Eva writes to her husband, which Ramsay does an extremely brilliant job repurposing as a script.

Ramsay's We Need To Talk About Kevin Crawls To 5.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

The two biggest setbacks for the film are its characterization (it's not a psychological 'horror' film) and the natural tendency to associate it with school shootings. Neither is really accurate.

Shriver originally wrote a story that explored maternal ambivalence (nature vs. nurture) and America's sometimes overwrought sense of optimism. Ramsay captures most of that, but daringly steps further out with a message moviegoers (and many Americans) don't like: sometimes bad things happen for no reason whatsoever.

We Need To Talk About Kevin is available for rent or purchase on iTunes. Barnes & Noble carries the movie on DVD and Blu-Ray. You can also find We Need to Talk About Kevin [Blu-ray] at Amazon.
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