WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN
It didn’t matter if you went to school a few miles from Columbine like I did, or you went to school half way across the country. The shooting still left the same mark on everyone’s psyche.
I’ve seen three films now that have attempted to talk about school massacres. They were all pretentious messes. “Elephant”, “The Life Before Her Eyes” (easily the worst of the bunch, by a mile), and now “We Need to talk About Kevin”.
I remember liking “Elephant” and in fact I still own the DVD. But there is something gravely wrong with that movie. Van Sant puts distance between us and the event, despite how realistic he tries to make it. We roam the halls of a real high school, following real high school kids who have never acted before. But by the nature of this method, we feel we are watching a movie, and the reality seems to be missing. Why did I like the film? For completely unrelated reasons. I thought he did a good job of capturing what a high school sounded like, better than any film I’d seen up to that point. I thought his technique was interesting. He drifted through those hallways as if from the POV of a stoned student with senioritis who bails on his classes and just…walks around for awhile. Interesting! I don’t recall seeing a film quite like it before or since.
Still, it lacked honesty about the subject it was addressing, and I feel the same way about the other movies I listed. “We Need to talk About Kevin” does not feel earnest to me. It feels plotted, purposeful, and too manipulative for me to take it seriously. If it’s not going to take this subject seriously then I’m not going to take it seriously either.
In this film, I don’t know what Kevin is. A friend I saw the film with says he is a construct of his mother’s hate. Because Eva (Tilda Swinson, who is incredible in this movie) seems to detest him from the minute he’s born. Obviously there are women who have PPD, but this has to be the most harrowing, on-the-verge-of-murder PPD I’ve ever seen. So is it only natural the boy becomes…demonic?
No, not exactly. I am sure many mothers who go through PPD end up raising very good sons and daughters. The film very clearly makes the point that if the boy was only a little bit more – human – then Eva would not find him so strange and difficult to raise. But she has a hell of a time with it. Contrast it with his father (played by John C Reilly) who isn’t noticing one damn thing out of the blue about him. So really, the title of the film becomes deliciously ironic. They never talk about Kevin, even though they probably should.
So what’s the warning on the label then? Is it, “not addressing your kid’s weird quirkiness may result in a school massacre someday.”
The massacre is what really confuses me. I’m not sure why it’s in the movie. Worse still, the massacre is saved for the climax and we are constantly teased about it right until it happens. We get glimpses of police lights, strange buzzing sounds, screams…and we don’t know what it all means until they are finally put together in a straight sequence at the end. I will say the technique was handled very well, and I have nothing but respect for the way they held out information. I felt it was building…but towards what?
Here is yet another film where reality is blurred through a prism. In this case, that prism is the little boy. It was impossible for me to take the character seriously. Every word of dialogue felt straight from a screenwriter’s brain. This character, at all stages of his “life” – from a boy to a teenager, felt too “movie-ish”. It was a role. It was not a character. You could have plucked this boy out of the movie and inserted him into a horror film and at least that would have been more honest.
I feel there is a good foundation of a story here. Certainly any parent can relate to the situation where their son or daughter does something gravely stupid and lets them down. Maybe not on the scale of say, mass murder, but the seed of it is an excellent subject. I just think they made a fatal mistake by using a school massacre as the seed. That is still a heavy cloud on the country’s psyche, in the way 9/11 always will be. Like many 9/11 movies (particularly any involving Nicholas Cage as a firefighter) the film does not handle the subject with the honesty I would expect to see. Best 9/11 movie might be “United 93”. We don’t yet have a “united 93” for school massacres.
Not that I’d ever want to see one…