12.11.11

We Need To Talk About Kevin

I saw this a week ago and haven't had the time to write about it, even though I've really wanted to. The film is almost perfect, one of the best I've seen this year, and well worth your time. I just wish I had the memory of it fresh in my mind right now, but I'll have to make do.

I gave Lynne Ramsey the benefit of the doubt last time around, and I'm glad I did. We Need To Talk About Kevin is more focussed, and clearer, than the meandering Morvern Callar. Peter Bradshaw is otm when he talks about motherhood being 'a ritual in which the adult consents to gradual parasitic destruction', although when it comes to Eva and Kevin I think the ritual is more important that the parasitic destruction. I say that because of the last dialogue exchange in the film. Eva finally breaks a habit of a lifetime and stops patronising her child. Instead she treats him as an equal. No more games, just an urgent need to understand 'WHY??'. Kevin's response highlights how monumental that question is: 'I used to think I knew. Now I'm not so sure.'

Eva's problem is that she plays at being a mother rather than really being one. Her behaviour towards her children is codified by rituals learnt and internalised from movies and books. Christy acts like a typical little girl, and so the relationship works, but Kevin has no desire to play by the rules society has prescribed. The film dismisses the charge of autism or mental illness. Kevin is just smart enough to understand and manipulate the codes of behaviour he sees around him, and the fact that he is too intelligent to fit within the established idea of what a child should be like makes him lash out. He torments his mother because she is lying to herself, trying to love her son even though she cannot. Hypocrisy is Kevin's enemy, the fact that people obsess over serial killers without recognising the uncomfortable sources of that obsession.

My only problem with the film is that Kevin isn't really a real person to me, rather a preternatural demon sent to play with or expose people's self-deception. The scene in the restaurant where he lists all his mother's pathetic stratagems strains credibility (although I should say the person I saw it with had no problems with it). Eva's response to such a horror frustrates, as it should, as that is what the film is about. I wasn't always very sympathetic towards her, but perhaps that lack of indulgence is just a sign that my own mother was much better at raising children than she was.

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