In the end they all fall just the same
but she’ll never get the bloodstains off her hands”
– “Butchers” by Slobberbone
I’m bad, you better watch me, I’m bad
But won’t you look at all the fun I’ve had
Crazy like a fool, I’m bad
I’m a bad-bad boy
I’m just a bad-bad boy
– “Bad Bad Boy” by Bobby Lollar
Parentin’ ain’t easy, folks. In fact, it can be a brutal exercise in trial and error, sleep deprivation and social skill building that’s unparalleled by anything we ever face in our lives. It’s hard work fraught with thrilling highs and crushing lows and we do the work because we want our kids to grow up and be good, successful, happy and healthy. We do it because we love them and no sacrifice is too great. We do it out of pure, unconditional love.
But what if you had a kid who is, to put it simply, a bad seed? What if your kid is a total asshole? He’s been inherently evil or she’s been a raging, wicked bitch from the moment they were pulled from your womb. Who’s fault is that? Would you be man or woman enough to admit that your kid is a budding psychopath and he or she needs immediate and lengthy psychiatric care or would you just do your best to love them and hope that love is enough? I mean, with whom do you even bring these issues so it doesn’t reflect horribly on you as a person and force you to be the one in court or counseling? Questions like these just scratch the surface of many conundrums faced in Lynne Ramsay’s amazing and terrifying film “We Need to Talk About Kevin.”
The titular character in the film is played exquisitely by three different actors (in order: Duer, Newell and Miller) as we follow Kevin from birth to his teenage years. An extremely early adopter of the Machiavellian rules of engagement, his entire existence seems predicated on torturing his mother Eva (Swinton), who does her best to love him even as she discovers the kid is clearly screwing with her day in and day out. He refuses to be potty trained and uses a frustrating, scarcely verbal form of communication with her in order to get under her skin. Yet later, Kevin shows he’s miles ahead of kids his age in virtually every area, he just doesn’t allow his mother to see it.
All the while his amicable doofus of a dad Franklin (Reilly) is completely convinced “that’s just what boys do.” But as life trudges on for Eva, it becomes more and more clear that Kevin is plotting and conniving on levels that extend well past his nuclear family.
When we think about truly horrible, evil people in real life, we rarely know who their parents are. What did Mr. and Mrs. Hitler or Gaddafi do for a living? Was Charles Manson’s father the local ice cream man or was he a deadbeat dad who little Charlie never knew? I have no idea. Yet when kids commit an atrocity, we immediately seek to blame the parents. Think of when Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris went on their rampage at Columbine High. After the initial shock wore off the finger was immediately pointed at the parents. People wanted them to pay and were in total disbelief that they couldn’t have seen this coming.
While I honestly don’t know what I believe in terms of blame or nature versus nurture or good versus evil, I’m not sure “We Need to Talk About Kevin” does either, which is another aspect of what makes the film so compelling. The title in and of itself speaks to the touchy and desperate nature of addressing an extremely difficult subject.
The film is told through the eyes of Eva as she tries to live out the rest of her existence after a horrifying tragedy. She’s despised in the community and while she was once a prominent author, she now has nothing but a crappy dead-end job. She spends her day in fear of who she might run into and what their reaction might be and it’s sad yet also rather frustrating. Why does Eva stay around? Both in life and in the same town this tragedy occurred? Yet that ties into the theme of the film as well. What is she supposed to do?
For me, reviewing a Tilda Swinton performance is like reviewing the picture quality of a Blu-Ray. When it’s bad, I’ll say something, but otherwise just know that it’s beautiful and perfect.
Director Lynne Ramsay doesn’t pull punches with her direction or her color scheme as red is splashed across the screen throughout the film. Admittedly, I’m not positive what her intent is rather than the obvious; red is the color of danger, blood and a loving heart. When someone vandalizes her tiny home, she spends endless hours fruitlessly scrubbing red paint from the walls and then her hands and that visual intent is clear but I admire the way Ramsay makes it a bold choice.
There’s also a bunch of fairly funny scenes scattered throughout the film and I also caught some great homage’s to “Rosemary’s Baby” which included Swinton’s short, boyish haircut and an early scene where Kevin is being pushed in a buggy that seems borrowed directly from the final scene of Polanski’s film. Speaking of haircuts, it’s no accident that Kevin and Eva share nearly the same ‘do late in the film even though their clothing is clearly crafted to be opposite one another.
In case I need to point out the obvious, I love this film and cannot wait to watch it again. Every viewing (I’ve had three now) reveals something new, be it in the fragmented and rearranged plot, character development or visual cues. I’m also intrigued by the source material, a book written by Lionel Shriver (who is a woman) as I’m sure this adaptation includes subtleties taken directly from the text.
“We Need to Talk About Kevin” is a slow and odd film but it packs so many unanswerable questions into a compact frame, it’s impossible not to be totally submersed and intrigued. It’s clearly one of the best films of the year.