Wednesday, March 28, 2012

We Need To Talk About Kevin (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

We Need to Talk About Kevin

The dark side of the brain is a tangible and serious thing that is all too hidden from most.

If we are lucky.

With this thought in my head, I rolled into The Peggy to see "We Need to Talk About Kevin" a film based on a novel by Lionel Shriver about a young sociopath (actually in kindergarten) who wreaks havoc on his family and holds them virtually in a state of unending mental anguish.

This is no supernatural "Omen" film. The demons here are all too human. And as in the novel of the same name, the film unfolds both impressionistically and expressionistically, giving us short, sharp bursts of narrative that roll behind the eyes like a carnal dream. The first thing that hits you is the color red: the red of tomato soup, raspberry jam or blood. Each red element is ubiquitous, eerie and mischievous.

Our heart goes out to the angular and spacey Eva, (played wonderfully by Tilda Swinton) who invariably looks like an astral mother Lost in Space who would like to be put in some other maternal orbit. During a grocery visit, Eva becomes indistinguishable behind a row of Campbell's soup: a sinister and sad parody of Andy Warhol himself. Eva can't reach her Kevin (Erza Miller) who does increasingly troublesome and painful things to those closest to him. Despite Eva's David Bowie looks, it is Kevin who is the real spaceman, and a violent one.

One furtive glance at Kevin as a toddler (Jasper Newell) and his dark scowl is a glance that is not easy to take. He is so unreachable and his pandemonium so vexing that we realize we are not in the realm of the supernatural but the suburban.

Swinton does one better than Mia Farrow. Rather than become an operatic victim of demonic intent, Eva is part Sherlock Holmes and part Franz Kafka. She constantly cleans and brushes her vandalized home and masochistically takes a dead-end job at an unpopular travel agency. Yet just when you think she is down, Eva's memory goes down another associative abyss, sometimes hellish, sometimes hopeful, but always daunting.

The film contains some of the most scary 'Trick or Treat' imagery that I've ever seen, all the more frightful because the real shocks have nothing to do with costumed frights but with losing a maternal footing in life along with your connection and purpose.

The film is a jolting Rorschach of colors symbols and episodes that all add up to a sincere and earnest Mother wishing to stop things, wanting to understand and hoping to rid herself of her malevolent son.

If "We Need to Talk about Kevin" has a weak spot, it is in the character of the father played ably enough by John C. Reilly. The father is simply There to play off Eva's worry and there isn't much for him to do. He supports Kevin's terrible virulence and even his growing eagerness to shoot with such clueless regularity that it (almost) misses the mark. Reilly's obsequious father could be played by nearly anyone.

I was also thinking that the last scenes were not all that necessary. How often have we seen disturbed young men both on film (and sadly in life), grandiose and unapologetic in their actions?

But I won't spoil it.

The most lasting and heartfelt circumstance in the film is that it's really not about Kevin, but rather his mom, and the mysterious movements that Tilda Swinton creates in this role. If you need one reason to see "We Need to Talk About Kevin", she is it. Swinton is the definition of inner space, mystery and motherhood, par excellence.

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