As a female writer struggling with domestic woes, Margot in
Sarah Polley's "Take This Waltz" had it pretty easy. Consider Eva, played by
Tilda Swinton, in another film by a non-American, female filmmaker, Scottish
director Lynne Ramsay's adaptation of the Lionel Shriver novel "We Need to Talk
About Kevin." A free-spirited travel writer, Eva opts to have a child, the
Kevin of the title (played by Ezra Miller as a teenager).
Yikes. As they said in "Rosemary's Baby," he's got his
father's eyes, and I don't mean the lunk-headed biological dad played by John
C. Riley. Baby Kevin lies on the malevolence spectrum somewhere between "Damien
Omen Two" and "It Lives." At first it's the continual crying, the refusal to be
toilet trained, and the malicious hostility at a younger sister, that makes you
think the kid's not right. And then it's mass murder. If you're pondering
having a family, or even if you already have one, this might not be the best
movie to see. Or maybe it is.
So what do you do when your only child massacres a number of his fellow students? Do you still love him? What if you never loved him at all?
And was your not loving him, even
resenting him because he stunted your lifestyle, the reason for his wickedness?
Certainly Eva's victimized neighbors think so, as they persecute and ostracize
her, throwing red paint on her house and her car and cold cocking her on the
jaw one day while she's skulking home from work.
There's a lot of red imagery in "Kevin," from the opening
scene of Eva in her carefree travel writing days being absorbed into the pulpy
mass of the annual "Running of the Tomatoes" at the La Tomatina Tomato Festival
- a mush pit, as it were
- to Kevin's revolting appetite for ketchup and
raspberry jam. I won't even talk about the guinea pig. But by the time it gets
to a supermarket display of thousands of stacked tomato soup cans I thought it
was getting to be too much.
I had a few other questions about the film which Tilda
Swinton was kind enough to respond to when I interviewed her.
First, I asked her if she had warm memories of the Tomato Festival.
"Several thousand people were there, drunk, had been there
since the day before." she recalled. "The smell from rancid tomatoes, sweat,
piss, and - let's face it -testosterone, is a heady mix."
Nonetheless, the scene was essential because it captured a
key element of Eva's character.
"It was her identity," she explained, "her sense of herself
before she got pregnant. That whole sense of her wanting to be a world traveler
is an important part of her resistance to what happens when she became
pregnant. She's constantly looking over the shoulder of her life at some far
off Patagonian hill. Of course the person who first picks that up is her son."
At the same time, the mother picks up on something in the
child. Not that he's her antagonist, but that he is in fact her reflection.
"I think one of the tragedies in the story is how close the
apple falls from the tree," she said. "The
worst thing for her is not that she looks at his misanthropy, violence, and his
alienation and thinks, ‘I don't know what this is, this is truly foreign.' The
worst thing is that she looks at him and sees herself and she's repelled by it."
Be that as it may, wasn't the kid just pure evil? I asked. I
mean, look at his eyes..
"That's her fantasy," Swinton said. "The whole thing is
through her eyes. So who knows what he really was. His father would tell you he
was a good little boy. True, he's thick as a brick.
But I'm not going to tell
you who's right because it's irrelevant. It's all a mess."
Some people find Eva's lack of maternal aptitude appalling,
if not implausible. Swinton herself is the mother of twins. Shortly after
giving birth to them in 1997 she joked with her agent that the next project she
wanted to do was "Medea." She can understand what Eva went through, even though
she didn't have the same experience.
"I was up for it," she said. "When my children were born I
remember noticing how much I really liked them. I was relieved that I felt that
way, which was a surprise to me because I probably assumed that it would have
come quite naturally. Something in my unconscious noticed that it might have
gone the other way. That it was possible to look at your newborn child and not
have that connection. And there are so many people who not only don't have that
experience as parents, but also have that experience as children."
No wonder Eva sees red.