Being a good parent, sometimes your best isn’t good enough.
Every time the world has to endure another school shooting it also has to endure another painful session of hand wringing from the media as they desperately try to pin blame on somebody, something, anything. One of the more convincing arguments is that the parents are ultimately to blame. . .they are responsible for these people and if their kid grows up to act on his desire to massacre their fellow classmates then something must have gone awry. . .right? But what if the problem was that those parents just happened to have given birth to a demon seed (the nurture over nature folks are going to hate that theory) who is incredibly brilliant and all together evil? And what if those same parents simply did not have the emotional or financial resources to tame that wild beast before he inflicted his pain on the world?
Lynne Ramsay returns after a nine year hiatus to tackle these questions in her own way in We Need to Talk About Kevin. Nobody captures the sensory experience of being alive better than her (please check out the club scene from Movern Callar) and she comes out swinging here showing off her skills and creating a highly stylized version of what it is to be human. At her disposal is Oscar winner Tilda Swinton who plays Eva the mother in question. Once she realized Swinton was interested casting that role must have been a tap in as Swinton is all too perfect as the icy careerist who makes everything she does look decidedly unfunny. Granted, her character here was dealt a crappy hand when she conceived Kevin but she is no treat herself. Impatient, hot-headed and much more focused on her writing career than being a good parent she does love him as best she can but I think the point here is that sometimes your best isn’t good enough.
Ramsay decides to tell this story using an extremely jumbled chronology having upwards of fifteen different threads going at once tracing the story from the night Eva was impregnated by her husband Franklin (John C. Reilly) up through the terrible indignities she has to deal with living in a town in which everybody knows that her son is a school shooter. There’s really no justification for having that many balls in the air at once but she handles it with far more grace than Clint Eastwood did during J. Edgar. Near the halfway point she quits bouncing around quite so frantically and that is when the film really begins to hum along. There is a stellar scene in which Kevin’s refusal to learn math begets a stunningly violent outburst from Eva that serves as a centerpiece. Also to the film’s credit is it’s lacerating sense of humor that is sprinkled in but never overused so that we never mistake what we are watching for something lighthearted.
In a scene that takes place post-rampage Kevin is in jail and speaks of his motivation for committing the crime. He talks about the banality of TV and how all the losers who watch it are more interested in him, a murderer, than they would be in some dork who got A’s in geometry. It’s a true enough point but to me life in jail seems like a high price to pay just to be entertaining. Plus, Kevin may not be self aware enough to realize that his character is sort of one dimensional and not one of the best parts of this film. Ramsay does have a twist up her sleeve late in the game and even though it is hiding in plain sight the entire time it still caught me totally off guard. She tries to make one grand point near the end, a point that lacks for originality, but one that is wise enough. Eva confronts Kevin and demands to know why he did it and he just shrugs it off which is supposed to remind us that it is never that simple, that no matter how much the media desires something decisive it just doesn’t exist. What makes this movie stand out though is the depth of the world that Ramsay has already created and the way that that world shows us the million little things that create a Columbine. Eva and her parenting skills are certainly held up for judgement (look at the murder weapon) but many other factors are also found guilty.
Director: Lynne Ramsay Notable Cast: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller, Jasper Newell Writer(s): Lynne Ramsay & Rory Kinnear (Based on the novel by Lionel Shriver)