Let’s talk about “We Need to Talk About Kevin”

So I finally saw this movie as part of the opening of the 2morrow festival here in Moscow. You might say that as the parents of a little boy, Alexey and I probably should not have seen something like this, particularly on the day that Lyovka turned 3 months old (3 months! Amazing! An entire season of Lyovka!). Yet I’m one of those people who believes in fighting fire with fire – namely, I try to confront my worst parenthood-related nightmares via books and movies. No point in trying to run away from stories such as the one told in “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” Well, inasmuch as this film actually tells a story.

I haven’t read the book, so I can’t tell if this is a faithful adaptation. And I’m not sure if I want to read the book now, because there is a great hollowness at the center of the film adaptation, and it’s got nothing to do with all of that nietzschean “the abyss looking into you” crap. Quite frankly, I just wasn’t that taken with the characters. I ultimately decided that I couldn’t care less as to why Kevin, the title character, is such an utter sociopath – in most scenes, he was just too smooth and polished, I suppose, to come off as real. The soundtrack was a little too ironic – all of those cheerful oldies songs worked for about 20 minutes or so before they became redundant. The great and glorious Tilda Swinton spent entirely too much time washing red paint from various parts of her body and house – I got the visual metaphor the 100th time around, thanks, the 101th time it was shoved in my face made me wonder if director Lynne Ramsay thinks the audience is full of idiots.

By contrast, the real-life sociopath Eric Harris, as described in Dave Cullen’s “Columbine,” struck me as pretty interesting. I suppose this is an unfair comparison, considering that Cullen wrote a nonfiction account of a real-life school massacre – but there was also something gratifying about the way in which Cullen treated his subject matter. He didn’t beat the reader over the head with all of this “ooooh, let’s explore the depraved world of a sociopathic mass murderer” stuff. When you’re dealing with something as horrifying as the events that took place at Columbine High on April 20, 1999, the facts on the ground will speak for themselves.

This isn’t to say that Ramsay isn’t masterful – she is. When she pulls off a scene, she doesn’t merely pull it off – she scores a freaking home run. Who needs to show a school massacre, for example, when a single shot of a blond cheerleader type screaming for help from behind a locked door is chilling enough? When Ezra Miller verbally eviscerates his mother in the middle of a restaurant, you immediately realize what a great director had to have been involved here – to get Miller to totally hold his own in a tense scene with Tilda fucking Swinton (do I hero-worship her too much? Probably). “We Need to Talk About Kevin” is ultimately a movie that’s been overcooked, but it’s also the kind of movie that makes you want to watch more of Lynne Ramsay’s work. And that says a lot – because I’m not one of those epic film junkies who has to know what’s going on in the industry 24/7 (which, considering my present career trajectory, is a bad thing… hm…), and my days of trying to write actual film criticism are pretty much behind me.

All the way in Moscow, it was just nice to get a glimpse of the doors of an American high school, really. Those doors I am nostalgic about… the ones that the evil Kevin locks with yellow bike lockers. Is it bad that I was just looking at them and going, “I want to hear the click and hiss of those doors one more time”?

9 thoughts on “Let’s talk about “We Need to Talk About Kevin”

  1. As the mother of an infant I can recommend this book to you. It explains how you can avoid producing a sociopathic child – not to say that I think there would be any danger of this happening at all with you as a mother.

  2. I haven’t read We Need to Talk About Kevin, but my family law professor (and latest feminist hero crush) referred to it in a conversation we had last week as “mother porn.” She said that if you want to read about a sociopathic kid and his parents, Doris Lessing’s “The Fifth Child” is better.

  3. Not sex porn. But that the voyeuristic, gratuitous, over-the-top description of a mother who created a sociopath is a sort of pornographic take on motherhood.

  4. Thanks for the book rec, PR!

    I see what your colleague meant, Joy. I thought she may have been referring to the Oedipal thing between Tilda Swinton’s character and the son – my former colleague at GlobalComment, Mark Farnsworth, touched on it in his review of the film.

    While Ramsay overplays her hand, it’s still a movie worth seeing. From what I understand, the book version of the mother wonders if her ambivalence towards her pregnancy helped engineer this monster. It’s an interesting premise, and it’s touched upon in the film – though she didn’t strike me as explicitly ambivalent, more like unable to cope.

  5. Morvern Callar is the only Lynne Ramsey I’ve seen, but it was very good indeed.

    Not bothered about seeing WNTTAK. It’s strange that for such a widespread experience as motherhood, there are so few realistic portrayals of it.

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