Monday, February 11, 2013

Women in Horror: We Need to Talk About Kevin

Eva Khatchadourian's life has completely changed since the incident involving her son Kevin at his school. She used to be a successful travel writer and now she took any job that would have her (in this case a clerk in a travel agency). She used to have a family in a large luxurious house, but now lives alone in a small squalid house. The people of her town are largely hostile towards her, splashing her house with red paint and even attacking her in the street. Kevin nears eighteen and she regularly visits him in jail despite not having much to talk about. Eva reflects upon her strained  relationship with Kevin and his complacent father who dismissed all of her concerns as she struggles to put some semblance of a life back together in the face of depression and the judgment of the people around her.

I am really impressed with this film. It examines this fictional situation that has been seen countless times in the news over the years and simply presents pieces of the story as the film goes along, allowing the viewer to come up with their own rationalizations and judgments. There aren't any clear answers about anything because there are none in real life. It makes for a thought provoking and depressing film that has stayed with me. A major theme in the film is the lack of communication in the whole situation. Despite the title of the film, no one actually talks about Kevin. Every attempt Eva made to voice concern about him was dismissed by medical professionals and her husband. After her concerns went unheard, she stopped trying to voice them. This lack of communications permeates all aspects of Eva's life. She never really talks to the people who were devastated by Kevin's actions (which may have made her feel less alone and ostracized) or to her husband about her doubts about being a mother and wanting to travel more (which may have made their relationship and marriage better) or even to Kevin. It's actually quite sad how a healthy dose of communication could have helped a lot of the situations here.

I loved Tilda Swinton's portrayal of Eva. She comes off as a sympathetic and human character. It seems as if she didn't really want to be a mother right from the beginning. She seemed detached from the other mothers in the pregnancy classes, abhors her constantly crying infant son, and even tells him that every day she wakes up she wishes she was in France. Unfortunately, society still considers it a taboo when a woman doesn't like being a mother or doesn't want children, so this portrayal is rarely seen. Many would see Eva as a terrible person, but motherhood really isn't for everyone. I'm sure there are many women out there that regret having children because our society puts forth that all women should want or like children and have a maternal instinct. Eva made some mistakes along the way, but she really loved Kevin and tried to do her best even when he was at his worst. Over time, she grew scared of him and knew that anything she said against him would be dismissed and would make her look irrational or cruel. In the aftermath of the incident, Eva takes a lot of grief and violence from the parents of Kevin's school mates. Instead of protesting this or even talking to them, she quietly takes the abuse and moves on. She believes Kevin's actions to be her fault and accepts the vitriol of others because she believes she deserves it. Eva is a flawed person, but is simply human and undeserving of such punishment.

Kevin is a frightening character. Through the course of the film, he grew from a difficult infant to a sociopathic  teenager. Talented at manipulation, he uses the people to his advantage at every opportunity even at a young age. His relationships with Eva is complex and interesting. She is the only person who sees him for who he truly is, but he punishes her at every turn because he knows no one will believe her. His violent act is designed to hurt his mother in the deepest possible way, even going so far as to reference the children's book she read him when he was sick. The reason why Kevin ended up as he did is an obvious question and doesn't have a clear answer.

The way the film is presented is disorienting at first. It starts after the incident but then constantly flashes back to life before from Kevin's birth to the incident in a fairly linear order. I would recommend watching the film at least twice because it makes much more sense the second time and more nuanced things can be recognized when not hindered by trying to figure out where every scene fits into the story timeline. The cinematography is striking. The color red is used in much of the film as a constant reminder of the blood and violence that Kevin caused.

We Need to Talk About Kevin provides a different perspective on a story we have seen time and time again in the news. It provides some insight into how the people might feel in this situation and how something like this might happen without resorting to stereotypical smokescreens as other films have. I would recommend this highly disturbing and powerful film.

My rating: 9/10 fishmuffins

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