I woke up thinking about Tilda Swinton’s blank face from We Need to Talk About Kevin. It is amazing how much expressiveness there can be in a blank stare. The movie directed bravely by Lynne Ramsey is an adaptation of the Lionel Shriver novel of the same name. Like Ramsey, Shriver is not a shy artist and her book The Post Birthday World is one of my all time favorites.
The film is told from the point of view of Eva Khatchadourian, the mother of Kevin, who has just committed a Columbine like atrocity in his high school. It asks the question about whether she should have seen it coming, as well as the ultimate question that cuts to the core of all mothers – is this my fault?
Not being a mom myself, I am still on team Eva. There is no way for a mother who tried so hard to love and connect with her kid (who was clearly always difficult and as he aged grew surly and mean) to know that he was going to be a sociopathic serial killer. How could she? How could anyone? It’s unfathomable and that’s what make the whole exploration so interesting. This kid showed tell-tale signs (like bunny murder) but they were constantly dismissed and she was made to seem that she was taking it too seriously.
But she wasn’t. There was something off about Kevin and she did nothing and then he did something horrible and unforgivable and she is also paying the price. In the aftermath of the event she is barely holding on and for some reason stays in the town where it occurred to continue to be tortured by it which I think is part of her contrition for not doing something about her kid. She can’t move on. She’s stuck.
This film is as director Lynne Ramsey said last night “a bumpy ride.” This is not for the faint of heart. But it is a really good movie, really well directed by a woman with immense visual talent.
And Swinton – what is there to say about her? She’s magnificent and brave — I know I keep using that word but because the movie is about such a tough subject that just taking it on seems brave — and this film again proves she is one of the top actresses working today.
There was another mother on display in Think of Me starring Lauren Ambrose which had its world premiere last night. While Eva in We Need to Talk About Kevin had the resources to help her son, Angela has nothing. She’s a single mom with no support structure, no education, no safety net, no nothing. And she’s at her wits end trying to raise her 8 year old daughter. Here’s another kid who has to do too many things too early and who is also barely getting by and no one has noticed that she can barely read.
There were times in this movie when I wanted to ring Angela’s neck and tell her to get her shit together, but the truth is there are many Angela’s in the world today. So many women one paycheck away from poverty, one paycheck away from being in the street, one paycheck away from losing their kids. Poverty is a women’s story and this one is sadly not unique.