Friday, December 16, 2011

We Need to Talk About We Need To Talk About Kevin

What an unfathomable nightmare it would be to have your child commit a massacre. I can't even imagine the pain, the shame, or the self-loathing it would produce in you. All of the responsibility for the killings would somehow be vicariously placed on your shoulders. The sins of the child...

And what dreadful time it would be having to deal with a child that is inexplicably and irrevocably callous, cruel, intractable, and violent. You would end up having to deal more with an idea of malevolence than an actual person. There would be no breaking through, no possibility for understanding, no possibility for change. It would be like asking fire to not be so hot and then sticking your hand in it only to be burned once again.

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN is right on point in depicting these two scenarios. It seems to thoroughly understand the nightmare that would be your child going on rampage and being a purely evil little shit to boot. If you are interested in being put through this nightmare, then this is your ticket and you won't be disappointed. It, like so many modern films, wants to bury you down deep in its mud and soak you in its blood until you are only left with a leaden feeling over the horrible depraved world we live in. Again, if this is your thing, then you will love KEVIN.

I, however, couldn't stand sitting through this. Now, I have no probably with films being nightmarish, depressing, or horrific. It all depends on how well they execute their ideas. INLAND EMPIRE is nightmarish and l love it. REQUIEM FOR A DREAM is depressing and I really like it. IRREVERSIBLE is horrific and I like it (actually like isn't the best word..tolerate, maybe?). If you are going to make a film like this you need to be consistent, you need to know what you are making, and you need to make it well. It's a very fine line in nightmare art-films between powerful and pornographic. While, I wouldn't call KEVIN pornographic, I would call it a two-dimensional exercise in making you feel bad. And that's its biggest problem; its got its dial completely set to awfulness so much so that it forgot to turn on the humanity and complexity, two things this story desperately needs.

It would be awful to be the mother of a school shooter, indeed, but would it necessarily be this nightmarish? I can understand the personal torment, but I can't understand you being treated like a medieval leper by the community. Obviously, the community would be outraged that such a thing has happened, but I feel like there would be more pity for the parent of the school shooter than stigmatization and condemnation. The treatment of Tilda Swinton's character, who constantly looks like she has just finished running a marathon through the desert, just seems over-the-top and lazy. How is there not more complexity to this issue than mere condemnation? I think if we dealt more with Swinton's character's feeling that she was being stigmatized (than all the scenes of her actual abuse), the film would be much more insightful. Honestly, let's talk more about the psychological complexity of her predicament than simply putting her in a pillory and having the townsfolk throw shit at her.

And, of course, it would be awful to have to deal with a vicious and evil child that you can't reach in any way; but is he just just simply vicious and evil? The film seems to sway back and forth between trying to make Kevin a complete horror film monster and a troubled kid looking for love and parental guidance. Mostly the film plays heavy on the former, with Kevin just being incredibly malevolent. The finale of the film where we actually see his plan unfold is actually quite good because it plays him up as a thorough villain. But then there are scenes where he seems to blame Swinton's character for his behavior or where he just doesn't understand why he does the things he does. But these come off flat because he is just such a horrible monster. We fucking hate him the whole movie (the "fucking" is used for emphasis–he is completely fucking unlikable). If the film is trying to posit a nature/nurture debate, it doesn't do it very well and it suffers for not being able to pick an identity for Kevin. Either make him a black-and-white villain and have the film be a horror picture or make him complex and have the film be a character study.

Personally, I think the film wants to be more of a character study than a horror film, which is why it didn't work for me. For a film titled the way it is, there is no talking about Kevin. There are no scenes where he is confronted and the issues of his character are fully dealt with in an insightful way. Swinton's character simply bears the cross of his wickedness the whole way through, Reilly's character is oblivious, and no one else (no teachers, no principals, no doctors) seems to notice anything wrong about a kid that is incapable of behaving in any way other than unruly and cruel. And Kevin himself just becomes a cliché because of this. He's the embodiment I'm sure we all have of the Columbine and Virginia Tech killers: Angry loners who never have fun, love to play violent video games, and are always seething with psychotic nihilism. Maybe they have all these tendencies, but maybe they are also deeply wounded human beings who are hurt and confused and deal with a complex variety of emotions. Can that be possible? I don't know the standard DNA of a school shooter, but I bet they are all different, all complex, and rarely the complete inhuman monsters we portray them as. So let's try to portray them differently. We don't have to sympathize with them completely, but let's try to make them more of what they are: human.

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN suffers from not dealing with the complexity of its characters or the complexities of its situations. It's so singularly devoted to one idea that it forgot that you can have several. And its disjointed editing through time only comes to mask the fact that it doesn't have a real story to tell. Maybe the point is that the nightmare needs to be over-the-top and maybe the point is that no one is really talking about Kevin the way they should. If this film is a comment on how our society doesn't understand troubled youths, then that's fine. I just wish it had more to offer then pure tendentiousness then.

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