Tuesday, February 28, 2012

We Need to Talk About Kevin [2011]

MPAA (R)  Roger Ebert ()  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDB listing -
Roger Ebert's review -

We Need to Talk About Kevin (directed and screenplay co-written by Lynne Ramsay along with Rory Kinnear based on the novel by the same name by Lionel Shriver) is a fictional account of a mother's reflections on her teenage son's becoming the perpetrator of Columbine-style school massacre.  

In the book, it's clear that the mother, Eva (played in the movie by Tilda Swinton), had been ambivalent about having the child.  In the movie, her ambivalence is not as clear, but it's clear that she herself thought that she had her own problems.  In both cases, however, it's obvious to the reader/viewer that from pretty much the time that Kevin was a toddler something was very wrong with him.  He seems aloof, developmentally slow (starts talking fairly late, and certainly takes his time and fiercely resists getting potty trained), and he's mean.  Eva sees this but as is often the case the other parent/her husband, Franklin (played in the movie by John C. Reilly), does not.  A manipulator from almost before he could walk and certainly from before he could really talk, Kevin plays the two parents off against each other.  What a nightmare ...

And it doesn't get better.  As Kevin grows up (Kevin's played as a toddler by Rock Duer, as an 6-8 year old by Jasper Newell and as teenager by Ezra Miller), he hones his skills of playing-off his parents (and other adults) against each other, being mean to animals and to his developmentally normal little sister (played by Ashley Gerasimovich) but never quite mean enough to finally force the hands of his parents and the other adults in his life (mostly at school) to actually do something until one day he locks the student body of his high school in the gym with bicycle locks he bought over the internet (he told his parents that we was "going to make a killing with them (they think selling them) at school") and starts picking off his classmates, one after another, with a cross bow.

What went wrong?  Both in the book and in the film, Eva, in part, blames herself, in the book because she knew that she never really wanted to have children (Kevin) to begin with, in the movie because she knew that she wasn't altogether psychologically fit herself when she had him.  Did Kevin know from early on that she never really want him (the book)?  Did Kevin inherit her psychological troubles (the movie)?

To some extent the reader/viewer could ask whether that inner angst of the mother is really relevant (other than being melodramatic) here.  Perhaps better questions could be asked: What can society do to identify psychopathic youths before they do it harm?  Can a pattern of uncalled-for / gratuitous meanness become seen as a symptom worthy of flagging someone as a potential danger to oneself and society and worthy of progressively more attention/supervision by parents/teachers/law enforcement authorities?

Yes, psychopathy like other neurological conditions (autism comes to mind) would probably exist on a scale.  Still a consistently mean child, even for the sake of the child (to say nothing of the larger society), would deserve to be supervised/watched (and not just by the parents but by society, mostly at school) to make sure that others (innocents) don't end up being killed by that child as/when he or she grows up.

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1 comment:

  1. This film is so disturbing, chilling, and at times, very hard to watch but it’s terribly tense with a near-perfect performance from Swinton, who I usually don’t like but here she’s absolutely amazing and definitely deserved that Oscar nomination. Great review Dennis.