Friday, 16 December 2011

“You can’t get uncomfortable enough, can you?”

We Need to talk About Kevin: directed by Lynne Ramsay; written by Lynne Ramsay and Rory Stewart Kinnear
One of the earliest shots of the film is one of Eva, our protagonist, being carried by a group of half-naked people covered in red tomatoes clearly suggestive of blood. It bears a faint allusion to crucified person being crucified. I’ve come to learn that it’s a recreation of La Tomatatina, a Spanish festival. This, the second shot of the film, is overflowing with the garish and is the first revelation of what becomes a tendency of Ramsay to be maddeningly unsubtle. The title refers to the child but We Need to Talk About Kevin is the story of the mother. Most of it done in flashbacks we meet Eva from the past, a different person from the mouse of a woman we are introduced to in the present. Eva is in a nondescriptly happy relationship with her husband when her son his born, a cantankerous thing who seems to immediately have a dislike for his mother. He wails constantly when in her arms, and Eva so overwhelmed by a palpable disinterest in her child, a disinterest which is not just returned by her son but is matched with a seemingly strident hatred for his mother.
It is not unclear that Eva is unable to strike a significant rapport when it comes to her relationship with her son. Or so it seems. Because, with a singular focus on Eva the film’s perspective is delivered with an almost insular focus on her reaction to the tragedy which destroyed her family. And, as one would expect, Eva is like any parent who spawned a child overflowing with sociopathic tendencies harbours significant guilt for the way in which things have developed. And, herein leads us to one of the strange things about the film. Because Ramsay decides to evoke the trials of Eva via her seemingly demonic son via flashbacks we’re never certain if what we’re seeing are actual flashbacks or increasingly insular, flawed memories streaming out from a guilty mother. As people in the present observe her with barely tempered disgust Eva seems almost to take a sort of pleasure in being the martyr of the situation. Half of the instances it seems as if Kevin is just an outright beast, and yet on occasion Eva’s memories seem intent on making her the root cause of it all. And, Tilda, always content to play up to her characters’ most puzzling ambiguities seems intent on blurring the lines as much as possible.
The very manner in which Ramsay presents the film makes me recall the dissertations of Longinus in is “On Sublimity”. He proffers that in the quest for finding truly subliminal art tacit errors in presentation are incidental. Ramsay’s execution is not quite subliminal but in its garish stridency it is certainly arresting. I have not read the novel on which the film is based, but considering the strength in the film’s (admittedly, very literal) screenplay I have to believe Ramsay diminishes the material’s original resonance. Ramsay is so intent on utilising a directorial style infused with moments of overwhelming poignancy but bookended by moments overflowing with artistic conceits and gratuitousness. There is a fine line to be treaded between good use of imagery and an overwhelming lack restraint and Ramsay doesn’t just skirt from side to side on this line, she launches into a spirited rhumba, samba and tops it all off with an impassioned bottle dance.
I have a feeling that conscious of – what I expect to be – the film’s provocative inclinations Ramsay immediately goes on the offensive and attacks the material with an overly audacious tone and the fact that it ends up working is more in spite of the overloaded direction than because of it. Or, maybe it’s an amalgamation of both. It’s a messy film, rife with encumbrances but it’s also a brave film – sometimes for no reason other than to be brave. But, in being so single-minded in its onslaught it’s more than effective in making us uncomfortable. It is, I suppose in theory at least, a character study of Eva but Tilda (and no fault of hers, the film doesn’t allow her) doesn’t allow us to know much and Ezra Miller’s chilling Kevin is outstanding but it’s a bit of a shame we never seem to understand. It’s not that a reason for his actions rob the film of its strength, but after Ramsay has succeeded so well in making in making us shudder she ultimately seems content to just astonish us…but not much else. Still, maybe that’s enough.



dinasztie said...

I really want to see it. It's available to me, I just don't have time. :/

Candice Frederick said...

i love a good character study. definitely want to check this out.

Dan O. said...

Director Lynne Ramsay’s first narrative feature in nine years is uncomfortably tense but worth savoring, particularly because of Tilda Swinton’s devastating lead performance. It’s dark, grim, and very disturbing, however, I could not take my eyes off of it. Great review man.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

daniel it's not a rewarding film in the more obvious of senses, but it's a solid one. i'm still not sure i liked it, so erratic, but it's powerful i think when at its best.

candice heh, heh. well, it's not very good at studying its character, not really. i'm curious as to what you'd think o it.

dan it's dark, grim, disturbing AND deliberately manipulative, and still i can't take my eyes off of it.