Thursday, March 15, 2012

Let's Talk About Parenting

The first thing I did after seeing We Need to Talk About Kevin is to find out whether the screenwriter and director have children.

As it happens, Rory Kinnear and Lynne Ramsay are married and, not surprisingly, they don’t. This can only be a good thing because they might just produce the kind of spineless darling that good old liberal mollycoddling does.

But it rarely produces a Kevin. That is, a mass murderer of the Columbine variety. What causes that generally is parental neglect of one sort or another; parents who are so involved with the TV programmes of  their own miserable lives that they have no clue what their offspring are up to.

But then Wikipedia suggests that author Lionel Shriver doesn’t have children either, though apparently her book is about a woman who has “ambivalent feelings” towards her son. That’s one story, the film is entirely another, and if Shriver thinks the adaptation of her novel is "brilliant" it might have more to do with her contract than her feelings.

Anyway, at first the film gives us an indication that the ironically named Eva (played by the David Bowie of film, Tilda Swinton) is suffering from postpartum depression, a very common occurrence, and that she’s incredibly sensitive to noise. Her baby screams incessantly and pneumatic drills and lawn mowers just add to the audial assault. On that front she has our full sympathy.

Miraculously, the faceless doctor says Kevin’s fine as a toddler and doesn’t prescribe anything in a nation that is gaga on tranquilisers. Throw in a quick scene of two female victims bonding in the waiting room and jump to Kevin being the kind of wilful, manipulative brat that needs a good smack – or some kind of line being drawn - instead of being indulged on his way to becoming a psychopath socially or a full-blown demon theologically.

What happened in between? Has Eva come to hate Kevin? Has her marriage fallen apart? No, on both scores. She persists with Kevin and she’s still married to Franklin (John C Reilly), who does we don’t know what for a living. When she’s down he’s there to offer the boy the kind of time and love most children crave. In fact, he can see no wrong in his darling son.

Yet the older Kevin (Ezra Miller) has become a sneering, 16-year-old authorial vehicle for what’s wrong with society: it watches TV not about goody two-shoes but psychopathic killers. True enough. Only once do we see that he might be a little like his mother. That's when she actually has an opinion about something, saying she thinks most fat people are thus not because they have medical problems but because they’re always eating. He is much more in character when he tells her that the only honest thing she ever did was lose her rag with him and throw him to the floor, breaking his arm.

But the film is not trying to indict the parents, as it should. Instead we sit through a very interestingly directed film (pick up on the theme of red, as in tomatoes, wine, paint: blood), and surely some of us think Swinton should have won the Oscar rather than Merryl Streep, whose (also female) director seemed to work on the laughable premise that for being such a monster Margaret Thatcher was cursed with dementia.

To crown it all, Kevin finally seems if not remorseful then doubtful, and maternal love will nourish his societal reintegration as he waits out the next 25 years or so in prison. This reeks of a creative compromise to give the film the redemptive kind of ending Hollywood seems to insist upon.

If the acting from Swinton and Miller is excellent, then it's undermined by the fact that the story they're telling us has absolutely nothing to do with reality.

Neil Sonnekus

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