Reporting Jonathon Sharp
Yes, it’s time to talk about Lynne Ramsay — a sharp and subtle Scottish filmmaker who has six of her films playing at the Walker Art Center this month.
Saturday, you can see three of her award-winning short films as well as Ratcatcher, Ramsay’s first feature. My second favorite Ramsay film, Ratcatcher is a movie that plays heavily on contrast. Think: Scotland’s lovely, wet emerald grass vs. pyramids of black garbage bags; the hardships of a 12-year-old’s working class youth vs. the quirkiness of his daydreams. It’s wonderful.
On Wednesday, you can see Morvern Callar, a movie about a young woman who finds her novelist boyfriend dead (by suicide) on Christmas Day. In an effort to recreate her life, she steals her late beau’s unpublished book and tries to sell it. The endeavor eventually takes her out of her supermarket job and south to Spain. Meanwhile she tells no one of her boyfriend’s death and she leaves the Christmas tree — with its schizophrenic blinking lights — up and on. Although a respectable film, Morvern Callar is the Ramsay film I liked least.
The movies I’ve mentioned so far are all gorgeous and brutal, and, at least for this American blogger, delightfully Scottish. However, none of the films (including Ratcatcher, which I liked quite a lot) as are brilliant as We Need to Talk About Kevin, which comes out Friday – Today! if you are reading this blog the day it alighted on the Internet.
Time to talk about Kevin. It plays at 7:30 p.m., and it’s a nightmare you shouldn’t miss.
What’s it about? Basically, it’s the story of a mother (played amazingly by Tilda Swinton) who gives birth to a beautiful boy named Kevin. But to his mother’s great misfortune, Kevin lacks a conscience; he’s a psychopath, a time bomb, a future teenage mass murderer who will make his mother’s private hell into a painfully public one.
The movie’s structure is artfully built around one act of carnage that I just can’t spoil. It’s something that would make headlines in any city, but it’s done such an archaic way that it’s almost humorous.
Kevin, as you might have guessed, is not easy to watch.
Devoid of compassion, Kevin is a constant torment to his mother, who is a successful, cosmopolitan woman, both intelligent and ambitious. But the constitution of her character quickly crumbles under the contempt of her son’s actions.
Examples of contempt can be seen in the following. Every time his mother says, “I love you,” Kevin flings back “Na na nana na na nana.” When she wallpapers a room for herself with exotic maps (her dreams, really), Kevin tells her the maps are stupid and, when she’s gone, takes a paint-filled squirt gun and desecrates her space. It gets worse. He refuses to use the toilet and will poop his pants (diapered 6-year-old devil that he is) as soon as she changes him. And as Kevin gets older, his ego and amusement at others’ suffering morphs into something truly gross. When he’s blessed with a little sister, Kevin ends up hiding her pet in the flip-switch-waiting jaws of the garbage disposal.
Thus begins the bloodbath. Visually, Kevin is drenched in red: tomatoes, red paint, blood, ruby-colored balloons and balls. The color is everywhere – lurching, popping, highlighting, burning. It’s almost oppressive, really. And the mother in our story is always trying to clean it up, despite the fact that the messes keep getting bigger and bigger. But what can she do?
She’s stuck. Raising a child – a psychopath, no less – is something she can’t handle at all, but she also can’t seek help. Kevin acts very nicely around his father and thus plays his parents against each other. If the mother leaves the family, she’s an outcast: miserable. If she tries to make Kevin normal: she’s miserable. And if she seeks outside help for her son, she has to admit to herself that something is horribly wrong with her life, perhaps even her parenting: and she’s miserable.
Speaking of misery, that word basically describes the movie’s tone. If you want to level some criticism against Kevin, you could say that it’s a bit one-track. However, I don’t think the movie would be as creepy or disturbing if it lightened things up – even if done so as a matter of contrast. Because when the credits roll, it’s that droning sense that sticks with you.
By now you might have an idea if Kevin is something you want to see on a Friday night. I’d have to recommend it just based on the fact that I could hardly control my unease while sitting through it. The strength of the film’s metaphors allows you to know what’s happening just based on intuition, making the movie into a sort of cinematic mystery game not totally based on chance or guessing.
Mike Augustyniak tells us it’s supposed to be uber-cold Friday, so why not consider, if only for a few hours, a nightmare that some mothers must face. If anything, the film might move you to talk (or at least think) about Kevin if you see him alight in your life.
Tickets to all of Ramsay’s movies are $8. You can also get into all of them for $15, which isn’t bad for three features and three sorts.
For more information on Ramsay, head over the Walker Art Center’s website.