Monday, February 13, 2012


In the wake of horrific events society seeks comfort in finding a reason for the tragedy or, in the absence of reason, in assigning blame.  This challenging film from Lynne Ramsay explores the effects of a high school massacre on the mother of the teen killer, her feelings of guilt and of responsibility for the actions of the child she brought into the world.  Adapted from Lionel Shriver’s novel, the screenplay by director Ramsay & Rory Kinnear opens with a series of disorienting images, like memory fragments arising unbidden, from a primitive ritual in a foreign land to a dark suburban home with billowing sheer curtains and the sound of automatic sprinklers in the disquieting night.  These memories belong to Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton) who has become a pariah in her town.  She regularly cleans the red paint thrown on her house and car, hides from victims' mothers in the grocery store, and accepts the hostile stares and recriminations heaped upon her.  The memories begin to coalesce and we learn of her well-traveled youth, her marriage to Franklin (John C. Reilly) and her reticence to impending motherhood.  Son Kevin’s birth confirms Eva’s fears.  The baby screams constantly in her presence, the toddler refuses to play with her, and the 6-year-old (played by a convincing Jasper Newell) spurns toilet training with open hostility, all the while benign to his father.  Teen Kevin (Ezra Miller) only gets worse, but whenever Eva expresses concern over their son’s sociopathic behavior her husband dismisses it as typical.  In a career-defining performance, Swinton elicits both sympathy and frustration as Eva in her attempt to walk the line between unconditional love and social responsibility.  We understand her hope of redemption for Kevin, and yet we cringe at the choices made with our benefit of hindsight.  And, despite Kevin’s relentless lack of remorse, we continue to question whether stronger parental intervention would have saved lives.  Ramsay’s unflinching and rigorous examination of the development of a psychopath refuses the comfort of easy answers, which makes for a bracing if less than pleasant film experience.

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