Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Review: We Need To Talk About Kevin

Eva: "You don't look happy." 
Kevin: ". . .Have I ever?"

There is nothing quite like a mother's love. And when the words in the above quote are spoken, the scene in which they are heard reflects the power that specific love contains. Trust me, it's a palpable stench that reaches out and grabs hold of you. Such a brilliant and potent few minutes.

Eva Katchadourian is not the sort of person who ever responded well to people, on an emotional level. She is not built for relationships, nor for romantic love. There are flashes of a woman, a wife, a mother, but she "simply is not there. . ."

When we meet her, she is part of a crowd, a mass of people covered in what appears a red, gooey substance, there all moving, waving, and alas, its a tomato festival in Italy. And then we see her, she is body surfing across the red dripping smeared masses and wearing 1 of the only 2 legitimate smiles supplied from her natural dopamine stores, or her endorphins, or from another part of her body. A part of her body that sadly, now, is sealed off, closed up. Like an abandoned factory or dried up well: Eva's chemicals only give her slow steady regulations of what she needs to literally sustain from one day to the next. Then, we cut to. . .

Eva doped up, drowsy and sleeping on the couch that afternoon, she wakes up, again cased in a shade of red coming seemingly through the window. For a moment she stares blankly into the camera and across the living room, her hair is ratty, her face is weathered, her closely cropped and no doubt expensive hair cut grown out and disheveled, left to grey and rot around her face. Her designer clothes are gone, and she wears shabby old coats and the bare essentials for a business workplace. She is not the woman she intended to be. Outside, her house, and some of her car, is bathed in a splashed red paint. She will spend the rest of the film cleaning the red, again and again. Red a running trope in this film, and makes appearances, only finding itself on Eva or Kevin, and nothing else.

Through broken images, half shots and whispers of words and inner thoughts, we get fragmented mixtures of timelines nearly unreliable. In a dreamlike state we explore this world, this life of the woman of three. Johnny Greenwood's score and song choices only add to the whimsical quality this film invokes. We are thrown sometimes from one shot to the next, from the past into the future, back to the present, and then thrown around again. Eva, much like the shots we get, has her wires crossed, her programming naturally has malfunctioned as much as ironically her laptop does in one scene we she is shown a virus that tells her "you loose" while it laughs at her. The personification of her life, mocking her to her face at any chance it can? Ramsay and Swinton let that point be known that maybe Eva was destined to never win at anything, at least not ultimately. We get the sense that Eva, short of her former adventurous lifestyle, never really found much joy in anything else (including being herself) other than exploring and then writing about it. For that was her business for a lengthy time, travel writer. See, there are two Eva's, maybe even three:

  • Before-Everything-Eva
  • Before-It-Happened-Eva
  • After-It-Happened-Eva
After-It-Happened-Eva  is dead soul, walking through life a zombie with little care for anything other then to not be recognized by parents of certain children, and how much Merlot is left in the bottle. In a scene that (literally) jolted me, we see what happens and why she is so cautious of running into former parents. It's something that get's your attention. I promise. 

Before-It-Happened-Eva just should not have gotten married, but Eva thought, well, what every woman thinks at her age at that stage in a relationship, "Doesn't this make sense?" And even as Kevin is literally crowning and being birthed, we hear the nurse say, "Please, stop resisting." She knows this is not the path she's fit to walk down, but it's too late...

The mistakes she was making were, in a way, beyond her control. It's almost as if we see her watching her life happen, playing out before her, unable to stop it, to change, to control it. Maybe she really is damned and Satin has it out for her. Makes sense. As she tells bible-thumpers who come-a-knockin' and ask her, "Do you know where your spending the afterlife?" Her reply: "Hell, eternal damnation and the whole bit." And then she shuts the door with a fake-nice smile. A honed skill and trick she developed while raising Kevin.

Kevin, oh Kevin. For very brief moments in this film, we see the titular Kevin, while adorned by his mother, and maybe, just maybe, showing her legitimate affection. Or maybe, it is all a ploy, a sham, a flim-flam, a demon-seed cruelty that only the devil himself is capable of. I fear that maybe I was right, and Eva was too. She is damned but there is no afterlife for her. This is it, this is her Hell, and Kevin is her warden, her jailer, her sentence in itself. It brings up a quote from The American, a film, if you know or read me, that I have much respect for:
"You cannot doubt the existence of Hell. You live in it. It is a place without love."
Swinton plays out the three parts of herself so well and so authentically that my heart was truly breaking for this woman. This poor woman who had no fucking business in the first place starting a family. Shown in a scene where she realizes she knows so little about her teenage son, she stoops to snooping through his room to find. . . nothing. He has no possessions, empty notebooks, one pillow no posters or photos on the walls and short of his bow and arrows, archery being a pastime of his he excels at, is a blank young adult. For she dreams of the outside world and what she had with it, that was her real marriage. Franklin the husband, Celia and Kevin the children, they are a shell, a ruse. In fragmented flashbacks and cuts and slivers of that family life of Before-It-Happened-Eva, we see her desperately wanting and wishing her appreciation of her family and life to be real, but alas, it is not. It will never be, and nor was it meant to be.

Kevin tells his mother that "It's an acquired taste. . ." 
Kevin, oh Kevin. The child maybe has it out for his mother because they share the same blood, the same genes, the same unfulfillment, the same depression. Maybe he's angry that he was even born, and born with that same feelings his mother has that passed through to him? Maybe he's extracting daily revenge for his life, and the life he never wanted. It brings up lines of dialogue from a truly great western, Tombstone:
"What does he want?"
"For what?"
"Bein' born. . ."
Maybe being a half-hearted mother to an unwanted son isn't enough to save him, but enough to push him. To push him to do terrible things, things that only get more terrible as he grows, and grows smarter and more sophisticated. He sharpens this intellect and ability to lie, deception and subterfuge his honed specialty learned on his father.

His loving father played by Reilly to a degree of demention I haven't seen in some time. His #1 fan, Franklin shows no real signs of any remote intelligence whatsoever, another reason it makes more sense that she married him, for why not a harmless dimwit who loves me implicitly and can give me means and lifestyle?

Time and time again, as he ages, as Kevin purposefully puts on the facade of the loving son while secretly throwing hate-stares at Eva while father isn't looking, we all learn he really is out to get her. Kevin commits his acts that include dousing her rare map room with a squirt gun full of paint, smashing his PB&J's on the glass table so they stick, (excuse me--) dropping fat loads into his pants (while giving her a truly hateful set of eyes) just so his mother has to clean it and change him herself, cursing terribly at a young age with hate and zero remorse and so on. There are times, when he makes it very obvious he's done the terrible things he done, and there are times when he only gives clues the likes of which The Riddler or Batman could only detect. And as the deeds get worse and easier for him to conceal as he grows larger, so does the distance between him and Eva, and Eva and Franklin.

The more clueless that Franklin gets, the harder it is for Eva to accept him as a father, a husband or a man in general.

The only one appears even halfway normal is the eventual daughter Celia, who loves her stuffed animals, smiling, dotes on her older brother and sings lovely little girl songs. It's too bad she was born into a family of such broken pieces. She had not a single chance at normality.

As we wrap up the final moments in the film, we know that it is in deed a tragedy. Not a thriller with cops racing down the streets and kids running and screaming, not a suspense with stalking in the hallways, but a tragedy. With a broken family and dead woman with very little if anything to live for, mostly for her Merlot and shitty broken down house. After-It-happened-Eva now a sad, shadowy reflection of Before-It Happened-Eva. She now works essentially as data entry in a small travel agency, nothing pristine like her former job in a big building writing about her travels.

Kevin, in the film, is talked abut many times, but sadly the words from Eva fall on Franklin's deaf, idiotic ears. In an exchange of dialogue (as Kevin is angrily breaking his crayons in half, we feel to vent his frustrations) we get to the generalization of their relationship. Kevin as young boy and his mother debate the issues of bringing another child into the house (which is discovered by Kevin when he calls her fat one morning, pointing out her belly):
Eva: "Then you get used to it." 
Kevin: "Just because you're used to something doesn't mean you like it.  . . You're used to me."
She takes in the words through her fake-nice eyes, and lets them dry in her brain's tissue. She then she dodges the truth and moves forward with superfluous sincerity.

Eva might not make it the ripe old age of whatever is considered a ripe old age in the coming years, Eva might not make it to tomorrow or next week. We feel throughout the film she consistently looking for a reason "not to" when there are so many reasons "to." Lynne Ramsay takes Lionell Shriver's novel and directs Swinton (and Ezra Miller as young adult Kevin, who has transformed into a true vindictive sadist and master psychological rapist) into one the most meticulous and precisely controlled performances of her career. She's a sad-sack of acting dynamite.

I spoke earlier of how red makes itself known in this film, it does. And in some small way, I feel that Eva has the blood on her hands, and feels responsible for her son's journey and destination. We see her red handed and literally trying to wash her hands of it, the paint splashed onto the house that seemingly will never go away, that red stains, deep and forever.

But, by the last frames of the film, we see. . . A glimmer of hope, hope in the white light pushing through so blindly into her eyes, into our eyes. Pushing away the damnation? Is it being sent from somewhere, from someone? Is it merely the lovely light of a new day, or shining down from the Heavens of the earth swallowing the poor woman whole to give her a chance at redemption for a poorly lead life?

We hope it's something worthwhile for her. We desperately need it to be.

. . .What is that bright, white, enveloping light?

Munki Out. 

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