Saturday, January 21, 2012

the sea of smashed things

Public service announcement for anyone who’s trying to shut up her biological clock for a minute: Go see We Need to Talk About Kevin. It’s a movie (based on a novel I didn’t read) about a mom trying to raise a little psychopath whose only joy in life is tormenting her. The movie is sliced into short scenes, and it takes a while to figure out what’s going on—all we know is that there’s a Before world, in which Eva (Tilda Swinton) has a husband and two kids and a stylish haircut, and an After, in which she’s alone and haggard in that particular Tilda Swinton, Oscar-worthy way.

But it quickly becomes apparent that her Before was mostly a period of suffering in silence, as she endures daily standoffs with a kid who refuses to potty train until he’s eight, when she tosses him across the room in a fit of frustration. Meanwhile her husband (John C. Reilly) just thinks the kid is quirky.

The opening scene—never fully explained—shows Eva crowd surfing through some sort of Bacchanalian festival, nearly drowning in what looks like a sea of smashed raspberries. Nearly all the scenes drip with blood-like messiness—the red paint thrown at her house by pitchfork-type townsfolk, the splatters from Kevin’s paint gun, a sandwich oozing jam. On one level it’s straight-up foreshadowing of the actual blood that Kevin will summon, a la the opening credits of Dexter. On another it’s straight-up Freudian: Kevin, trapped in the anal-propulsive stage, shits (sometimes literally) all over everything Eva values.

It’s clear that Eva, who at one point makes an offhand comment about how fat people shouldn’t blame their genes, blames herself for Kevin’s strangeness and anger. Not in a traditional handwringing way, but in her stoic insistence on letting the aftermath of Kevin’s crimes ruin her life. In this way she is like him: relentlessly stubborn. He’s the one who destroys, she’s the one who cleans up. Their version of love is a kind of codependent harmony.

The movie’s title is ironic: Eva and her husband never really do talk about Kevin in a serious way. A doctor rules out autism, Kevin hides the worst of his creepiness from his dad, and that’s that. The family seems to be well off, so I wondered why they didn’t hire some sort of behavioral specialist to come by for, oh, like nine hours a day. But I also wondered if, to Eva, that would have meant sharing Kevin and giving up.

There’s no genuine cautionary tale here, just what I imagine is a brutal truth: When you’re a parent, you go where your kids take you. Here’s hoping AK and I get off easy and just have to learn to like soccer or something.


Sincerely, Jenni said...

I read that book a few years ago. Creeped me the heck out.

raardvarks said...

Sounds creepy, will def. read!

Cheryl said...

Looks like the verdict is in: Kevin is creepy.

christine said...

And I'm just gonna say it - Soccer is awesome.

Cheryl said...

This ensures that your kid will be super into ballet.