Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Don't Stop Imagining. The Day That You Do Is The Day That You Die.

It's Awards season, and the time where year end wrap ups begin to hit hard. As a result, I need to begin writing at a much more rapid pace in an attempt to crystalize my thoughts on all the wonderful (I know, but bear with me) film that are sure to be released in this time. So what we have are an upcoming series of shorter reviews that will rarely delve in to the same type of analysis synthesis that I attempt to craft with my writing. Then there will be a huge onslaught of year end lists. I'll try and sprinkle a few editorials in there as well, and there's probably a major site overhaul coming up. So there's the state of Processed Grass, and now on to the review!

We Need To Talk About Kevin (Ramsay, 2011)

The new film from acclaimed Scottish filmmaker Lynne Ramsay, We Need To Talk About Kevin, recently had a one week limited pre-Oscar qualification run type deal in NYC and I had a chance to see it during that time. Basically what we have is a quasi-horror film that, much like other indie standout Martha Marcy May Marlene, takes many of its cues from psychological horror and Gothic tropes than delving in to new age cinematic scares.

Actually, I'm not sure this film is all that scary. Sure Ramsay has a ton of arresting visual shots (doesn't she always?), especially early on where the color red is used to chilling effect to both underscore and act as the focal point of many scenes, but even considering the subject matter it never becomes a full on horror. More of a surreal drama that inter-cuts the past and present of Eva, played wonderfully by my almost best actress of 2010 Tilda Swinton, as she copes with the fallout and build up to her son Kevin's (great performance here from Ezra Miller of Afterschool fame) murder of his father (John C. Reilly) and sister along with the shooting of his school. Tangential facts, mostly revealed in the beginning of the film, but the way it's presented is astounding.

What is most striking about the film is how it doesn't really vindicate Eva much at all, nor does it definitively portray her as the 'bad' character. It's established early on that we are seeing the world filtered through her judgmental eyes, and we are constantly reminded throughout the movie that she is not a great person. She literally tells her baby son that he is the reason she is miserable and has had to give up all of her passions. But Kevin, as we see him grow up, also constantly torments his mother for seemingly no reason.

Reasons, in fact, do not seem to be the film's primary concern. Rather than concerning itself with the why regarding Kevin's actions, it forces the viewer to sit with the consequences. As such, it becomes much more haunting. This film is not Elephant, nor does it ever pretend to be. In fact, the way it mostly erases the shooting itself from the film works to establish a chilling tone that has the flashbacks brimming with sinister undertones and the post-shooting portions colored with a melancholy.

It's easy, when tragedy strikes and is made in to a fictitious film, to focus on the act itself as a way to shock the audience. As a result the action itself which we find so horrid and shocking becomes perversely glorified, an anticipatory scene that is meant to be a pay off more than an avoidance. It's easy to forget that life still goes on, and We Need To Talk About Kevin explores the after with an assured hand. Though the pacing is a bit methodical, slowing down to make the more strenuous scenes more pronounced, the end product is an examination of what tends to be overlooked. As that, it's an unbridled success, and a film well worth the time of anyone interested in meditating on the lost, the forgotten, and the overlooked. Not heartbreaking, but certainly harrowing.

Rating: *****/*****


Comments are welcome and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blogfilled with all original works for your reading pleasure. Or if video games are more your thing, I have a blog dedicated to all gaming news, reviews, and opinions.

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© 2011 Richard James Thorne


  1. I'm so itching to see this! I love both Ramsay and Swinton. Also, I finished the book recently, and while it was a very odd and unsettling read, I'm not quite sure it's a great book, even if its themes and questions are deeply interesting. I've been thinking that, especially with Ramsay and Swinton, this could be a case in which the movie exceeds the book.

    Interesting that the film reveals the father's murder early on? (did I read you right there?) That particular murder is a big reveal that comes in the very last couple of chapters of the book. The book is epistolary, Eva is writing to her husband, and we assume, as readers, the couple is divorced, not that he is dead. I rather think the choice to reveal that death early on, in the film (again if I'm reading that right), will work better; in the book it felt like a bit of a cheap twist that distracted from the story's themes.

  2. I hope you get a chance to catch up with it soon, I think it ought to be hitting most cities in January. I actually wasn't even aware there was a book until after watching the film, but hearing that it's epistolary kind of makes sense, but also does seem kind of cheap, like you say, if it's constantly building to a reveal. Sounds like a play for emotion, rather than serving as functional of a purpose. The overt emotional manipulation here is much more reserved, I think.

    There's a bit toward the middle/later half of the film where they talk about getting a divorce, but that's actually much closer to the end than the beginning. It's also not directly revealed that Kevin kills the dad and sister, at least I don't think it is, but I pretty much had that filled in because they simply aren't present. I never got the sense they were divorced though, even not knowing much about the movie.

    I'll have to check it out again later to see if it actually reveals it or just implies it. Either way, divorce didn't come to my mind until the part in the film where it's directly brought up. By that point it seemed even more apparent to me that Kevin had killed them. But again, not sure it's directly revealed, but I'm not sure how it would be construed another way.

    Can't wait to read your thoughts when you get around to seeing it!