I haven’t read and so can’t say what the famed Lionel Shriver novel We Have To Talk About Kevin was like, but the film Lynne Ramsey made out of it was unsettling, upsetting, disruptive, traumatic and for some life-changing, suicide-inducing for others, abortion-inducing for at least a few, and, at its heart, a tremendous, fraudulent wank.
It is not circumstance, this fool film asserts, that creates evil mass-murderers, but, as we are told in Rosemary’s Baby, a ‘bad seed’.
‘The Devil’s got into you, Robert,’ my mother used to say, and this film’s emotional delving is no more percipient than she.
Shriver does a quite unforgiveable thing. She moves what is common to poor single mothers — being trapped in a room with a choiceless, resentful, defiant infant — into the country mansion of a famous author, Eva Katchadourian, and her amiable millionaire husband Butch. She has no housemaids, no nannies, no helpful in-laws, no neighbours, no gossiping friends, no agent, no editor, no publisher, no Algonguin Round Table, no book-reading circle, no mother, no father, no sister, no brother, just a tiny dark-eyed gremlin, pooping his pants and refusing to talk or smile or play roll-the-ball with her and screeching till she is nearly mad. He is not autistic, the doctor says, just a little shit.
Soon he is a bigger shit, murdering a pet and blinding his late-arriving tiny sister. He charms his gullible father, though, and gets a big steel bow and arrow, a lethal insrtrument which, three days before his sixteenth birthday, in the school gymnasium, whose doors he first padlocks ….
It is very convincing, very well made (the opening shot of a blowing white transparent curtain is especially evocative and threatening) and superbly acted by Tilda Swinton, whose map of emotions — fragile, furious, hopeful, aroused, affronted, paranoid, scared she is insane — is big as the sky now and sure to get her another Oscar for this reassertion of the fears of a pregnant woman or a suckling mother (who is this intimate enemy? what does he want from me?) writ large, and Ezra Miller, whose dark unforgiving eyes forbode the next Brando, and the always lumpy-peasant-brilliant John C. Reilly as xxx, her patient thick-witted husband and provider.
But it’s a big, big lie and it shouldn’t go unchallenged. Mass-murderers have usually had several parent-figures and many, many changes of address, unlike this one. They are usually bashed, like Hitler, by their fathers very frequently, unlike this one. They are sometimes sexually molested, by uncles, fathers, cousins or (yes) mothers or bullied at school. They have usually undergone some significant failure in school or Summer Camp or on the sporting field. They often have some physical injury, or a visible defect humiliating to them.
None of this applies to this watchful, smirking, well-heeled evil genie Kevin. And the film is (probably) a fraud. It offers mothers the cop-out they have so long sought: it’s not my fault, it was nothing to do with my neglect, some kids are like that, some DNA is riddled with evil that can’t be ameliorated, he did this on his own.
I have a friend with a difficult child who shouldn’t see this, ever. In territory very similar to Bowling For Columbine it tells, I suspect, a pack of lies.
Or perhaps you disagree.