Saturday, 28 April 2012

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Sit down and be silent, because we need to talk about Kevin, something most people have been doing since the films debut.

Lynne Ramsays’ cinematic interpretation of Lionel Shrivers novel sizzled when it emerged in cinemas in 2011. Stark, bleak and unsettling, ‘We Need to talk about Kevin’ is the story of Eva Khatchadourian (the ever androgynous , astonishing Tilda Swinton), an independent, intelligent travel writer who soon settles into marriage and motherhood, whilst struggling to develop a functioning relationship with her unusual son, the titular character Kevin (mesmerizing newcomer Ezra Miller).

Kevin grows from a moody, bossy and sombre child into a sinister, introspective and highly aware young man; perpetually unhappy and bored. He enjoys playing his parents against one another, relishing the slow demolition of the family unit. He sadistically taunts his sister, savages the family guinea pig and projects a sunny yet sullen disposition to the outside world.

The culmination of Kevin’s erratic and unexplained behaviour climaxes with the massacre of his class mates with a bow and arrow. To Kevin’s ears, the screams of his peers merge eerily into the ecstasy of approving applause. The story, a weaving of past and present, unravels Eva’s past life of freedom and pleasure, kissing in the rain and travelling, the mundane hell of her personal experience of motherhood and the devastation and ruin caused by Kevin’s actions, as he steals from Eva her dream or illusion of family and the sacrifices she made, exchanging her past life of independence for one of motherhood.

As I haven’t read the book, the film roused many questions in me. What is Kevin’s motivation? As Eva asks him why, Kevin can only respond, ‘I used to think I knew’. Is the problem something innate within Kevin? Was he born with psychotic, even sociopathic, narcissistic, sadistic tendencies? Did he pick up on Eva’s lack of true love, claiming the only honest act she ever committed to him was breaking his arm? Was her lack of love the reason for his cold, harsh decision? Was the issue Franklins inability to acknowledge Kevin’s issues? Kevin is frequently described as uncomfortable, pointless, weird, something that his mother is ‘used to’ and harsh. Despite the emotional disconnect between Eva and Kevin, there is a clear connection; something that binds the two.

Everything Kevin does seem to serve as a punishment to his mother, perhaps an attempt to rouse a feeling of love or of hatred, but not of indifference and not of illusion. Eva tries to love Kevin and plays at loving him, but at least in the early years, she doesn’t and Kevin seems to sense this. The film is an interesting look at nature vs. nature. Are we born what we are, or do our environments condition us into being what we become? Kevin’s antagonistic dislike towards his mother and the usury, superficial relationship he shares with his father and sister are difficult to fully define and the film maddeningly refuses to explain why Kevin is the way he is, merely relishing the fact that Kevin represents the disillusionment of the family unit, the American dream, the potential of youth and the natural bond between mother and son. The film explores the child as a separate, wilful entity of the parents that has the potential to either elevate or devastate the parents’ expectations.

Contrary to many reviewers, I did not see Eva as a bad mother, merely a struggling one who was perhaps astounded herself by her lack of true maternal warmth. Despite this, she eagerly tries with Kevin but he thwarts her at every turn. Interestingly the only respite she receives from his caterwauling is the grating sound of road works.

Eva and Kevin are mirrors of one another. If Eva is acting at being a loving mother, then Kevin is acting at being a loving son with Franklin, and acting in the gymnasium when he slaughters his fellow students. Everything with Kevin is a veneer, a facade, reflected in his mother; actions that he hopes will inspire some feeling, but never do.

The film itself was slow to unravel but a fascinating portrait of a family falling away, tearing at the seams and an interesting insight into the difficulties faced by mothers in producing and raising healthy, functioning children. This is a film that focuses on silences, on what is unsaid and unknown, on symbols, alludes and colours, particularly the colour red, the most natural of colours, representing the blood of menstruation, of birth, of life ebbing away and finally, of murder and used throughout the film as Eva hides behind tomato soup, participates in a tomato festival, paints her lips red, drinks red wine and feeds Kevin jam sandwiches. It’s the colour of love, passion, rage, never quite freely expressed in this film, even in Kevin's final acts.


Eva and Kevin are both pretenders, but despite intriguing me, I couldn’t push past the surface and gloss of this film. I couldn’t understand Kevin, I couldn’t pierce his veneer, and I wanted to turn his head inside out and pour the contents onto the table.

I wouldn’t recommend to expectant mothers, but to all else, ‘We need to talk about Kevin’ is well worth a watch. In a world where children are perceived as innocent, angelic beings, this film makes us reconsider and ask the question ‘who is to blame, who is responsible if a child ends up like Kevin?’

Perhaps the most insightful quote of all into Kevin’s mindset is the following:

"It's like this: you wake and watch TV, get in your car and listen to the radio you go to your little jobs or little school, but you don't hear about that on the 6 o'clock news, why? 'Cause nothing is really happening, and you go home and watch some more TV and maybe it's a fun night and you go out and watch a movie. I mean it's got so bad that half the people on TV, inside the TV, they're watching TV. What are these people watching, people like me?"

Perhaps then what Kevin craves is notoriety, fame – supposedly children deprived of loving family units find the love they crave in the deceptive glare of renown. Basking in the afterglow of his murders, Kevin seems to feel for a moment, recognised. The reaction of bile and horror is honest, more honest than Eva’s repressed barely veiled desperation and dislike. Even at the end, Eva embraces her son and confides that she loves him, but does she, or does she only love the husk of family that has been left to her? I think audiences will be talking about this one for some time to come.


Friday, 27 April 2012

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

'All the Rules' - Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider

I made a pact with myself that this year would be the year that I would follow my heart and go with the flow. I would ignore fear, ‘mental monologues’, ‘what if’s’ and ‘but you can’t do that’s!’. This would be the year of boldly going where I’ve never been before, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, whatever-ly…it would be a year of seizing opportunities and reacting to the gut instinct that says ‘GO!’ and not ‘well let’s just see whether 2+2 equals 4 first…’. After all, that’s what youth is for. Caution is reserved for adults who’ve been badly burned before.

See I think there’s something to be said for these gut instincts; they are our inner children, our animalistic urges, unconditioned by expectation, dread and anxiety, and completely isolated from others judgements and beliefs. Of course, a civilised human being can only act like a child or an animal for so long, and certainly a 2 year old in a 22 year old body, or a piranha in a 22 year old body, might be a little less appealing than say…a human kitten or Peter Pan.

Despite this, part of me is still deeply analytical and I do enjoy intellectualising things as much as I enjoy feeling. There is safety in studiously standing back and attempting to comprehend ‘leaky feelings’. Perhaps because of this tendency, a close friend of mine lent me a book called ‘All The Rules’.

‘All The Rules’ is basically a dating manual but for a very specific kind of woman. This woman is not looking for a man to occupy her Saturday night sit ins, this woman is looking for a husband. Now I can assure you all that that is NOT what I’m looking for. To be fair, I am only twenty two and the lightning bolt of babydom and wifehood may strike me yet, but I feel I am destined (if life is kind) to a life of freedom and adventure….this may be why labels and rules scare me as much as they comfort me. As soon as I put a label on a radical or exciting emotion, thought or occurrence, it immediately becomes ‘intellectualised’ and ‘kinda boring…’ I quite enjoy the mystery and intrigue of experiences that don’t quite fit a logical or rational explanation, which is probably why my favourite of all maddening emotional ventures is the rollercoaster of infatuation; the adrenal, hormonal, whimsical rush that belies definition and convention.

I should have known really that ‘All The Rules’ wasn’t for me. First of all it’s a manual. It’s a ‘don’t do this’ and ‘do do that’ way to get your future hubby. It’s guidance from traditional, conventional, old fashioned women who snagged their husbands with good home grown ladylike manners, class and aloofness (like the old movie stars).

The advice includes but is not limited to the following gems;

  • Value yourself as a unique creature (probably like a unicorn or smurf)

  • NEVER call him first. NEVER. Or you will die.

  • NEVER tell him you like him, miss him, or love him first. OR YOU WILL DIE

  • NEVER return his call quickly. Make him wait. OR YOU WILL DIE

  • Never accept a date invitation for the Saturday any day past Wednesday. Presumably he will then think you are easy and boring and have nothing planned except eating cheetohs out of your hair and watching Mamma Mia.

  • DIET. LOOK SPLENDID. GO FOR A JOG. EAT LEAVES. Basically look beautiful.

  • Invent yourself some plans. Otherwise, if you don’t have anything to do, pretend that you did…presumably to make this lie believable you either have to stick to quite a simple and straightforward social event that requires no elaboration (‘Me and Tania went for lunch’ – too dull to require any embellishments). OR go for a big fat whooper of a lie that would dizzy any extrovert. I think I’d go with ‘I got up at the crack of dawn and rode on the back of wild skateboarding tigers through the Amazon whilst playing the bongos and chasing poachers to the verge of the new world’. You know something like that.

  • If he upsets you, never tell him. Accept it or leave him, but NEVER admit that anything he does bothers you or holds any power over you.

  • DON’T check up on him or ask him questions. Basically, show no interest in his life.

  • Never admit to jealousy, distrust or feelings of inadequacy. Deal with these outside of your relationship, privately, but don’t communicate them to him.

  • NEVER see him more than once a week – got to keep that lust and love alive!

Love/lust is a push/pull dance. You have to have the perfect balance of connection and distance. Connection becomes it naturally fosters a sense of closeness, compatibility and compassion, and distance to administer healthy doses of spice, mystery, freedom and desire. After all, familiarity breeds contempt and supposedly absence makes the heart grow fonder.

The problem lies in the fact that we all want different kinds of relationships. What we feel we can offer and what others want from us are usually very different and sometimes, in direct conflict. The real truth is that most of us don’t really know what we want, or we think we do until we have it. Then there’s the dilemma of maintaining what we have when it can all so easily, pardon my French, go to shit. Further to that, there's the fact that men and women are expected to act so differently and normally for good reason in the dating world. Yet there's always that one person who actually LIKES it when a woman is aggressive and forthright in her hunt for a man, or the woman that loves a shy, passive dude.

Human nature is a fickle, greedy, selfish and confused beast, but it can also be one of great altruism, kindness and closeness. I know there are times when I could barricade myself away in a room with nothing to live on but cuddles, and other times when my desire for freedom would be enough to cause me to set sail in a pirate ship far away from any other human companion. I think most of us are probably alike in this respect.

But like I said, this book wasn’t made for me. This book was made for people who KNOW what they want, or THINK they know; they want a husband, marriage and family. In that case, why waste time with weirdoes, committmentphobics and time wasters? For these women, this book is probably a bible. It ensures that the only guys that will even bother with you will have the patience of a Saint; you will weed out the chronic chasers, the flakes and the guys that don’t really want you. The ones that run your marathon of self-flagulation and rainbow chasing will be confident, ambitious and really really sure that you are the one that they want.

Truth be told, I can see why these rules may work, especially for the traditional woman who wants to be wooed. This guide works on the premise that men like challenge and they like to conquer. They don’t want a woman on a plate (not really), they want to woo and win her. They want the frustration, the intensity, the anxiety of having to run around after you, wade through the minefield and jump the hurdles you set out, whilst you casually breeze about in a waft of perfume like a beautiful, sexy skunk. This is supposedly the science behind why men like football and beating the crap out of each other. If you hand them anything without the promise of a war or struggle, they simply lose interest. Generally, I would say this is true of men. What draws them to women is her initial mystique combined with the glimmer of some connection. But at the end of the day, no matter how many games you play or races you run, all relationships (except the rare few, and these are probably wildly dysfunctional…and even dysfunction becomes boring and repetitive after a while!) fall into a pattern and lose the sheen and shimmer of their earlier passionate days. If those days lasted, we’d all be wandering around in swoons, emotional, outcast wrecks glued to our phones, disintegrating into tears when we have to be prized away from our lovers for five seconds.

To the women that want a hubby and a big white wedding, I would encourage them to at least attempt this advice. It’s tried and tested, well-worn and it will definitely put the men in your life to the test. For those of us that aren’t sure what we want and just want to enjoy the ride, I would instead advocate going with the flow and throwing all advice and guidance to the left while you struggle and swim through the fluctuating waves of human relationships.

This book just doesn’t fit with my ‘go with the flow attitude’ for the year…but still…I might hold off being the first to reveal how I feel….

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Quote Blog: Happiness

Believe, when you are most unhappy, that there is something for you to do in the world. So long as you can sweeten another's pain, life is not in vain. - Helen Keller

Saturday, 14 April 2012

'The Undateables'

Aired: Tuesday 3rd April 2012

Channel 4

When adverts for ‘The Undateables’ began to air, viewers automatically fell into one of two camps. There were those who, suffering from a reality TV malaise, assumed the show would be exploitative and shameless, and there were those who were generally (and perhaps shamelessly) interested in what rendered someone ‘undatable’. These kinds of shows evoke a bizarre voyeuristic urge in me. Any show that gives me a glimpse into another person’s life always intrigues me. This is how I’ve been unwillingly sucked into shows such as ‘The World According to Paris’ and ‘Audrina’, because despite how scripted and false they are, I enjoy peeking over the white picket fence.

Despite the provocative and controversial title, ‘The Undatables’ is a very human look at the difficulties several individuals living with different disabilities have to endure in the dating world, which is hard at the best of times for the best of us, in an increasingly shallow and superficial society. First we meet Richard, an aspergers sufferer, who douses himself in cologne prior to his date and eats her food. Richard has an endearing innocence to his character but finds it difficult to navigate the dating world when his aspergers means that he only likes to date women within a certain radius and he can’t always pick up on social cues in conversation. We then meet Luke, a tourettes sufferer who is matched with the very accepting Lucy, who reacts only with mischievous laughter when Luke refers to her as a ‘slag’. Finally, we are introduced to trainee teacher Penny who suffers with extremely brittle bones that leave her wheelchair bound. Despite this, Penny dreams of the typical, TALL, dark and handsome boyfriend who will accept her for who she is.

Dating is always a minefield at best, but this show exposes what most of us know anyway, that anyone that doesn’t fit a preconceived mould will find dating harder than others, but also that there is someone for everyone (whether that someone wants them back is another story). I found this a very compelling watch and I truly felt for the characters. Even with their quirks and eccentricities, they were still very choosy (and so they should be).

So does the show exploit its characters? In my opinion, no. Sure, I can picture some 14 year old drones drinking beer and laughing at the TV, but that laughter might be more of a reflection on the ignorance of the viewers. I think the majority of watchers would enjoy this sensitive and honest portrayal of what dating is like for a disabled person. The search for love and acceptance is what makes us human, and it was a very sweet journey to watch these guys and girls bravely take that voyage.