Director: Lynne Ramsay
Cast: Tilda Swinton, John C Reilly, Ezra Miller
Duration: 112 mins
“Just because you’re used to something doesn’t mean you like it. You’re used to me”.
A small child fixes his despairing mother with a look that would send a chill down the most steely of spines. It’s no spoiler to point out that this child grows up to become a teenager who carries out a high school massacre. Lionel Shriver’s controversial book of the same name broached new and uncomfortable territory on its release in 2003, giving an account of one woman’s experience of motherhood that is horribly at odds with the Hallmark version. In committing it to screen, director Lynne Ramsay has kept the dialogue sparse and relies more on vivid imagery, an effective soundtrack and some immense acting talent to bring home this mother’s journey through hell.
At the start of the movie we see Eva (Swinton) being carried along joyously by a crowd as tomatoes are splattered and squashed en masse, one of her adventures abroad as a writer who carves out a very successful career publishing travel books. This is the most comfortable we see Eva in the whole movie, as her life takes a turn into truly foreign territory, eventually becoming a living nightmare, in the years following the birth of her first child, Kevin. The next scene sees her take stock of a spattering of red paint on the front of her house and car. Eva spends the duration of the movie cleaning up the blood spilled by her son as she deals with the consequences of his callous act, wrestling with feelings of guilt and experiencing daily abuse from the families of her son’s victims. Everything from his birth has lead to this point: a refusal to speak, a refusal to potty train, sneeringly spurning any affection offered by his mother and little sister while manufacturing a dinsingenuously wholesome relationship with his father, Franklin (Reilly).
The acting in this movie is superb. Swinton’s Eva moves through the movie in a shocked existance. The various Kevins – three in total (apart from the brief appearance of baby Kevin) – are unnervingly cold, sullen and emotionally unresponsive. John C. Reilly is perfect as the all-American father, who unwittingly succumbs to his son’s manipulation, failing to pick up on the jarring behaviour that disturbs his wife so, which ultimately fractures their relationship. Their sweet and innocent daughter Celia is the perfect foil for devious Kevin, a blonde poppet who at least provides Eva with the solace of a more conventional version maternal experience.
This movie will leave you with a whole new perspective on the well-worn nature/nurture debate, not to mention our own judgement and expectations when it comes to the role of the mother in society.