From Ezra Miller

We Need to Talk About Kevin: Examining the Myth of Motherhood

We Need to Talk About Kevin. 2011. Directed by Lynne Ramsay. Screenplay by Rory Stewart Kinnear & Lynne Ramsay; based on the novel of the same name by Lion Shriver.
Starring Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, John C. Reilly, Jasper Newell, Ashley Gerasimovich, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Alex Manette, James Chen and Lauren Fox. BBC Films/UK Film Council/Independent.
Rated R. 112 minutes.
Drama

★★★★1/2
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Director Lynne Ramsay has done a couple very interesting films thus far. Her debut feature Ratcatcher is a bleak but important bit of cinema. Her follow-up feature, Morvern Callar, is a beautiful, elegant and atmospheric film with a solid performance from Samantha Norton. Ramsay’s style is at times gritty and realistic, which lends itself excellently to We Need to Talk About Kevin, and others it can take on the quality of dreams, again giving power to her latest work.
We Need to Talk About Kevin is not just powerful filmmaking. It is also incredibly powerful storytelling and writing in general. The novel tackled a viciously sensitive subject in the United States. Five years later, we still hear of school shootings, or mass shootings in general every few weeks, if that. The specter of Columbine will always loom over the U.S. no matter if there was never another shooting at a school again. But the fact it’s become too commonplace in the States is just another sensitive point in this dark tale. However, it isn’t simply the violence which Ramsay focuses on in her film, it is the lead up to the violent act which Kevin commits that takes center stage. Watching this film is a way of understanding the other side, the families of those who commit atrocious acts, and Ramsay dives to the heart of doubt, guilt, and self-hatred with the help of one of the greatest actors of our time, Tilda Swinton, as well as the enormous talent of young Ezra Miller.
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Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton) has seen better days. Long after the incident which marred her life for eternity, she struggles to find work. She used to be a great travel writer, a cushy job and lots of security. But after her troubled son Kevin (Ezra Miller) murdered and permanently injured many people at his high school, life is a bit rough. Her and former husband Franklin (John C. Reilly) no longer love one another, which really started to happen even before the killing, but ever since Kevin’s hideous acts their relationship is worse.
As Eva struggles to try and make it through her immediate future, we watch the flashbacks of her life, including even the ones she might not want us to witness. We see how Kevin grew into what he became, the monster which walked into that high school and killed people, but more than that we discover why Eva is almost determined to take the abuse thrown at her by strangers, grieving fathers and mothers in the streets. The guilt she feels is due to her relationship with Kevin.
But can we really blame Eva, no matter what she did, for Kevin’s actions?
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This film presents us with a moral dilemma. Now, there’s never a point where I once thought Eva should be held responsible for her son’s murderous nature. At the same time, though, we still find ourselves questioning her parenting skills. One of the most interesting scenes, or more so a set of scenes which parallel one another, is when Eva gives birth. The two scenes are juxtaposed at different points in time, but if we remember them together it’s intriguing. First, when Eva has Kevin not only do we witness the pain and struggle she went through during labour, we further see the distant and detached look on her face afterwards, as if Eva knew she were giving birth to a child that would cause her more torment over the years. Later on, after Eva gives birth to her little girl when Kevin is about six-years-old, the mother is happy, holding her child and showering the newborn baby with affection. I find these two scenes amazing in what they suggest. Not that you’ll find it hard to understand all those sentiments in other portions of the film. Almost every scene is weighted down with significance.
A theme I loved here is that of washing blood off of one’s hands, which we see physically represented at various points throughout the film. Such as in the first scene where we’re introduced to the present day Eva; her house and car are covered in red paint, obviously thrown by angry people either connected to the shooting by relation to victims or just people from town who scapegoat her as the mother of a killer. Afterwards, Eva tries to sandblast the paint off her siding, effectively washing the blood off her entire home. Another scene later sees Eva washing a blood-like substance of her hands into the sink, an even better image of her in the vein of Lady Macbeth, only she had no part in Kevin’s murders. She only thinks she did, as a supposedly bad mother. Yet what the whole angle of Eva’s being a good or bad mother presents is this: can we sometimes, in rare cases, actually blame the child for a mother, or father, being hard, uncaring, et cetera? It’s almost as if Kevin pushed her into being the mother she was, bringing on all her anger and loathing. We see both sides, and in the end are left to judge exactly what we feel. Near the end there’s a moment when Eva hugs her son close, perhaps the first time since he was a tiny infant unable to push her away, and you can feel that she does love him. It’s simply that Kevin, from day one as a screeching baby, has made it a tough thing to do.
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Both Miller and Swinton give terrific, out-of-the-park performances as troubled son and withered mother. On top of the atmosphere Ramsay conjures up with gorgeous, darkly framed scenes and plenty of intensely raw close-ups, these two actors propel We Need to Talk About Kevin towards near masterpiece. A definite 4.5 out of 5 star film. Each time I see it there is a new disturbing feeling with which I walk away, every time there is something else to catch my eye, and catch the words in my throat to describe how I feel. Swinton is the centerpiece of this wonderful movie and carries much of it on her shoulders alone, even in those silent moments where all we get is her face, her eyes. Although, you can’t forget about Miller either, whose star only rises further and further with each film he takes on. All the elements of Ramsay’s film come together to leave a stone in your gut, in your heart. If you can handle the morbidity, I definitely suggest this as a movie for a rainy afternoon, a dark night, or any time you can handle its at times tough to digest themes.

Down the Social Rabbit Hole with The Stanford Prison Experiment

The Stanford Prison Experiment. 2015. Directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez. Screenplay by Tim Talbott.
Starring Billy Crudup, Michael Angarano, Moises Arias, Nicholas Braun, Gaius Charles, Keir Gilchrist, Ki Hong Lee, Thomas Mann, Ezra Miller, Logan Miller, Tye Sheridan, Johnny Simmons, James Wolk, Nelsan Ellis, and Olivia Thirlby. Coup d’Etat Films/Sandbar Pictures/Abandon Pictures.
Rated 14A. 122 minutes.
Biography/Drama/History

★★★★★
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There’ve been two other films based on the real Stanford Prison Experiment conducted by Philip Zimbardo, at least that I know of – the German film Das Experiment and the semi-remake of that starring Adrian Brody and Forest Whitaker, The Experiment. Many will tell you the former is the best. Certainly none will say the latter. But I’ll go ahead and give you my opinion: The Stanford Prison Experiment is the best of the trio. It is the most raw, real, honest version compared with true events. It showcases best the real results of the experiment Zimbardo setup. Here, we see the worst of the human condition, what people are capable of given power and the ability to judge as they see fit.
As opposed to the other two films, Kyle Patrick Alvarez doesn’t try to add anything extra to the story. Or better put, screenwriter Tim Talbott sticks mostly to the practical facts of the original experiment. Instead of getting too flowery, attempting to intensify themes, Talbott’s script brings out the moral dilemmas inherent in Zimbardo’s supposed experiment. We are thrown directly in the hot seat, both with the people behind the glass and the inmates on the other side. This film focuses best on the human aspect of what really happened, rather than ratcheting up the violence, the threat of rape, or any number of things. Not saying every last bit of this is completely factual. More that it attempts to stick with reality. And things get very raw. For someone who traffics in a lot of horror, many disturbing pieces of cinema, this can actually be tough to watch; it isn’t even graphic. The psychological torture of the men in this experiment bleeds through the screen.
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Dr. Philip Zombardo (Billy Crudup) conducts an experiment at Stanford University in the early 1970s. Twenty four men were recruited. They were broken into groups of guards and prisoners. This experiment sees how both groups act under the guidelines of a prison environment in the basement of the university.
Except things start to get a little out of hand. The guards aren’t allowed to physically hurt the prisoners. But they do everything else possible. They psychologically torture the young men playing prisoners. Some of them rebel. Others comply completely. Allowed to leave at any time, a couple do, or at least try to. For Zombardo’s part he tries to keep people there, going beyond acceptable limits; certainly beyond ethical scientific limits. As some of the guards go a little wilder than others, the Stanford Prison Experiment gets further out of hand than even Zombardo could have predicted.
They had two weeks allotted to conduct the experiment. It didn’t even last one.
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Many times we see Zombardo lose it. One key moment is when a member of the research/experiment team has to leave, due to a death in the family, and Philip doesn’t lose it, but the lack of care for his colleague’s dead family member is evident. We can see how Zombardo doesn’t care about anything else, anybody else. Nothing other than his precious experiment. So, in subtle scenes like that we see the fabric of his personality wearing away. He meets an older man, either a former mentor or an older colleague, who asks about variables in his experiment; Phil dismisses him in a mix between anger, resentment, and perhaps a small dose of doubt, guilt, too. The character is a loaded one and full of many complexities. We watch as the guy’s mind tears, right alongside many of the inmates and some of the guards in the experiment. Hard to tell sometimes exactly who is slipping most.
Then there’s Michael Angarano. He is a great actor, one I’ve enjoyed plenty on Cinemax’s The Knick. Here he plays the “John Wayne” guard, Christopher Archer. Watching him progress from the first scene where we see him, to the Napoleonic character he becomes later in the film, it truly is impressive. Some may get annoyed by his fake Southern accent – part of the character itself, imitating a character from Cool Hand Luke, and poorly (on purpose). However, I find Angarano excellent here. He plays a young man who is fairly despicable, just as bad as Zombardo, and certainly one of the worst of all the men playing guards. His youthfulness comes in handy because he portrays a guy who, in real life, went too far and thought it was all justifiable, as if being a terrible human being at the drop of a hat, as he was during the experiment, were a situation anybody would find themselves in. His character helps to call into question the individual moral dilemma of such an experiment, and displays exactly the type of behaviour any person in their right mind would be ashamed of if it were them. A few other good performances here, including Ezra Miller and Tye Sheridan plus more. Although, Angarano and Crudup clearly shine. That could also have much to do with their characters’ respective importance to the events in question. Still, they both do an amazing job pulling their share of the weight along the way.
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This a dark and raw 5-star film based on true events. In the final fifteen minutes, The Stanford Prison Experiment devolves to madness and presents us with the regression of humanity, all represented in these men posing as the guards. The moment where Crudup’s Zombardo breaks is quietly intense, but it hits you hard. I do not admire anything about Zombardo. This moment just rocked me – especially with the line by Angarano afterward. There’s a despicable quality to the ending, and it lingered with me, yet above all a sense of relief. This film is a visceral one at times, it will get under your skin. Deep; if you let it. The bare human qualities of this movie made it one of my favourites from 2015.