13 July 2012

Lynne Ramsay's We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

At the end of my blog post linked below, I only half-seriously suggested that Lynne Ramsay's latest film We Need to Talk About Kevin would have a commnual bath scene, but indeed it does, athough not a friendly one like the others. This communal bath begins the film, and is a blood bath featuring a number of people, and although it comes through the filter of the severely disturbed mind of the mother Eva (Tilda Swinton), it is only an exaggeration of the real massacre that her son Kevin (Ezra Miller) has perpetrated at his school.

Ramsay has in her previous films tended to specialize in dysfunctional families and/or disturbed young people, but We Need to Talk About Kevin takes the themes to a new level. It is based on Lionel Shriver's monologic epistolary novel of the same name, which was published in 2003.

Eva is the reluctant mother and Kevin the reluctant son. As a baby Kevin won't stop screaming, and as a child he refuses to accept toilet training until Eva throws him at a wall, breaking his arm and and thus 'teaching' him.

Still he seems to hate his mother, and still he covers up most of his inappropriate behavior to such an extent that father Franklin (John C. Reilly) persists in denying that there's anything wrong with Kevin.

At one point, though, it seems as if Kevin is giving preference to Eva over Franklin because he shoos his father away so his mother can continue reading to him. The reading is from Howard Pyle's The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood: Of Great Renown in Nottinghamshire (1883), from the chapter 'Robin Hood Shoots Before Queen Eleanor'. Eva begins to read, and the viewer will later realize that what she reads is relevant if not crucial to Kevin's deviant development:

'"By my soul!" cried Gilbert. "Art thou the devil in blue, to shoot in that wise?"

"Nay," quoth Robin, laughing, "not quite so ill as that, I trust." And he took up another shaft and fitted it to the string. Again he shot, and again he smote [his] arrow close beside the center; a third time he loosed his bowstring and dropped his arrow just betwixt the other two and into the very center, so that the feathers of all three were ruffled together, seeming from a distance to be one thick shaft.

And now a low murmur ran all among that great crowd [...]'. The sentence (this part unread: the film is set in Connecticut) continues 'for never before had London seen such shooting as this; and never again would it see it after Robin Hood's day had gone', but Franklin interrupts at this point.

Eva continues reading after Franklin leaves, and from the same chapter, but for some reason she goes back about five pages:

'Two hundred and eighty score shafts were shot in all, and so deftly were they sped that when the shooting was done each target looked like the back of a hedgehog when the farm dog snuffs at it.'

Eva has now provided ammunition for Kevin's apparently senseless war on the world, even provided him with an interest apart from persecuting her: archery, beginning with arrows with rubber tips and then progressing to metal arrowheads, all of which is encouraged by Franklin.

Kevin will continue to manipulate and persecute Eva while hoodwinking Franklin, and carry out a number of not quite provable but inappropriate or harmful acts until the final massacre, when all four members of the family will be destroyed physically or mentally – along with Kevin's many victims.

This is an extremely powerful film.

Lynne Ramsay's Ratcatcher (1999) and Morvern Callar (2002), plus three Shorts

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