Friday, February 24, 2012

Time to Talk


Some films just by their very nature are an indictment of a certain kind of living.

Now I'm not saying in these cases the film is always right in its indictment.

I'm just saying the values of the film and the values of those it's portraying are at times somewhat at odds.

Which is to say the arthouse / indie film We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) starring Tilda Swinton (as mother) and Ezra Miller (as son) does depict a few things about life in the American suburbs that are less than a little bit negative. In fact, it depicts the suburbs at (perhaps) its worst.

The way it opens, the character of Tilda Swinton slopping about on the ground in the midst of some sort of tomato craze festival - it all feels very unAmerican (and very messy).

[I say "feel" because the imagery is so vivid - the camera pans slowly, and weaves you in and out of the crowd (mob), and the sound explodes chaotically, and the tomato-red is textured, and splatters all over everybody and everything. It isn't just something you see; it's something you feel.
Ironically, in spite of the scene's vibrancy, it leaves the viewer feeling cold - and alone.]

And it's foreboding in its catharsis. because everything afterward feels so controlled : there are so many rules when raising kids in (American) middle-class society. The deliberate art-house aesthetic only heightens the mood that something about it all (after the opening scene) isn't natural.

If your son scowls at you and doesn't roll a toy ball back to you when you're playing together at home - just because the kid is "just a kid" and it's understood that mothers should be nice - it's unnatural to just keep rolling the ball back.

If the baby wails in your arms every time you pick him up, no matter what you do to soothe him - does it mean your a bad parent "doing it wrong"? Or does it mean the kid is a brat? The answer should come naturally.

But when there's an artificial etiquette involved - to be responsible means to have kids and the mother is to raise him (no matter what her personality or interests were before conception) - when other mothers in society around you are watching and judging and expecting certain things of your behavior, an 'incompetent' mother better just try harder. Middle-class wisdom dictates, the problem isn't with the system. The problem is you.

So it's complicated.

And most times, when you're growing up in the suburbs, people's decisions and life's situations only ever escalate to end in divorce or some sort of dissatisfied mediocrity. Rarely do they become as tragic and violent as in this film, We Need to Talk About Kevin.

But then every so often - we've all heard about Columbine - it does (turn out this way). And then it's too late.

So, like I said, the film isn't always in the right - when indicting a certain kind of life. But the fact that sometimes it is on target means when a film like this comes around, it's worth talking about now than waiting til tomorrow because the film is "just a film." Tomorrow might be too late.

We Need to Talk About Kevin reminded me a lot of the Greek art-house thriller drama, Dogtooth (2009) - the violent energy and starkly spattered blood - the way it feels like a dream - and we're stumbling through scenes, not quite in chronological order - and parents seem to be wanting to make it seem like everything's okay - but the children feel brainwashed and somehow manipulated into an uneasy ennui - and the confusion and the incest... (There isn't incest in We Need to Talk About Kevin but there are, I think anyone would agree, some pretty unhealthy family relations.)

In life, one mustn't be lulled into thinking that meaning can be found in the ease and comfort created by the real efforts of others - each person must forge her own meaning, must fight to create good - otherwise others will out of desperation create ill in order that at the very least they will be heard, that they at least might make a ripple on the lake of time.

Tilda Swinton's character Eva is tormented in this tale because she's the one always internalizing the blame and trying meanwhile to fit in. She's the one trying to keep up propriety and never quite saying, "Hey - this is not right!"

To be fair, the husband's even worse - but then this film really isn't about him - it's Eva's story.

My conclusion: if you aren't going to talk about the serious stuff [of which Kevin is a symbol as much as a very real, though imagined, character] today, then you're going to have to talk about it later - perhaps even in the aftermath of one big bloody mess, or in the wake of watching a film like this one that shows life as you've known it but always pretended was just a dream...  But then watching now what was in your head appear on-screen, the nightmare becomes reality. Though it cause you discomfort, don't avoid it.

Watch it. Talk about it. Leave no regrets.

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