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On International Women’s Day, we need to talk about mothers. Motherhood, the role that can bring so much joy, and so much grief. No grief can compare to that of seeing your child self-destruct, and in the process, destroying others.

To start with, the wandering, free-spirited Eva (Tilda Swinton) before motherhood reflects an unsettling soul. Seems like she accidentally trespasses into the territory that calls for extreme commitment when she gets pregnant. While other expectant mothers fully embrace their swollen bellies, Eva faces her pregnancy with apprehension and awkwardness. Once Kevin is born, she knows full well that it is an irreversible life-long occupation.

Kevin screams all day and night as a baby, is incommunicable as a toddler, foul-mouthed, menacing and hateful as a child. The first thing he does to his newborn younger sister while visiting her in the hospital is to splash water into her eyes. This act will be repeated when he becomes a teenager, but it won’t be as harmless as water. Can’t his parents see it coming? I must give credit to Tilda Swinton, who has given us an audacious and engaging performance as Eva, but one, I’m afraid, that may not appear quite as sensible as it should.

If you are not a tiger mom, but has a tiger son on your hands, what are you to do? Wouldn’t you have sought professional help for your child, or counselling for yourself? Yes, we see Eva take Kevin to a doctor when he’s a non-communicating toddler, but what about all the years hence, until at 16 when all hell breaks loose? Ezra Miller as teenaged Kevin is a persona of a most disturbed young man; unfortunately, his self-absorbed, relentless evil scheming renders his performance two-dimensional.

I have not read the book by Lionel Shriver. We Need to Talk About Kevin was the Orange Prize Winner of 2005, an award honoring women’s writing. Shriver might well have depicted her characters and their inner turmoils with more depth, as a literary rendition can.

I knew of the plot in general before I stepped into the theatre. My expectation was that the film would be exploring the issues of parental responsibility and guilt from raising a wayward child despite all good intentions. I thought it would deal with the problem of evil, or the issue of nature and nurture, and the choices we can make in spite of our predicament.

But the film surprises me in that it has not delivered what could have been a study of any of the above issues. Maybe parental guilt, but still, not in depth. We only see the stunned look of Eva in every scene. Even before the tragic end, with overwhelming evidences of a terribly disturbed son, we hear little communication between Eva and her unsuspecting husband Franklin (John C. Reilly), who encourages Kevin’s interest in archery. (ah-ha… big hint)  Seems like director Lynne Ramsay’s goal is just to shock and disturb with exaggerated visuals and sounds, or its lack of to create mood. The ubiquitous red, another obvious hint. It is effective as an absorbing, suspenseful thriller, relentless in its portrayal of evil, but for the purpose of…?

The film has been talked about much in the UK. And on both sides of the Atlantic, many critics have given it high acclaim; others have pointed to its Oscar snub. While I had high expectation before I saw it, I left with a void of disappointment, which, I’m afraid, has extinguished my interest to read the book. If you have read it, I’d love to hear you tell me otherwise.

But on this very day, let us give kudos to all mothers who, regardless of results, stay true to their role and love in spite of everything. This we can see in the final scene and the last shot, the embrace in prison, probably the most meaningful in the whole film.

~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

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