February 29, 2012

The very bad seed (We Need to Talk About Kevin)

Like her second film, Morvern Callar, Lynne Ramsay’s daring suburban horror We Need to Talk About Kevin starts by putting us inside a traumatised consciousness. How often do we see Eva (Tilda Swinton) coming to, or remembering, persecuted by a sense of guilt and her memory, trying to understand her role in an atrocity? The atrocity has been committed by Kevin (three actors, most notably Ezra Miller), her demonic teenage son, but the point of view is consistently Eva’s. The Lionel Shriver novel apparently took the form of therapeutic letters, from Eva to her husband; Ramsay has dumped that device, not even offering a compensatory voice-over, but still drawing us deep into Eva's fragmented point of view, through Malick-style associative editing and imagery and through the sheer, unnerving power of Swinton’s acting. Ten years after Morvern Callar, which Kevin recalls like a fond memory in opening scenes at the Spanish Tomatina festival, Ramsay’s protagonist is older, unhappier, stuck in suburbia (despite stylistic overlap, this film is more depressive and tougher than Morvern Callar). Point of view is everything: in interviews, Ramsay has talked about her derailed plans for an adaptation of The Lovely Bones, which would have shifted perspective to the murdered girl’s father, as a kind of Hamlet haunted or driven mad by a ghost. More intriguing still, Ramsay has talked of wanting to remake We Need to Talk About Kevin from two other perspectives: the goofy, unknowing dad and the almost cartoonishly evil son. At how many points would their perspectives coincide? Of course it will never happen, but like her Lovely Bones, they are films we can imagine.