Tagged Columbine

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.

Chasing the White Rabbit of Anger

White Rabbit. 2013. Dir. Tim McCann. Written by Anthony Di Pietro.
Starring Nick Krause, Sam Trammell, Britt Robertson, and Ryan Lee. Breaking Glass Pictures.
Unrated. 90 minutes.
Drama

★★★★

White Rabbit is the story of Harlon (Krause) – a normal, awkward young man who is trying, like a flower stuck in a walk of pavement, to grow up through being constantly bullied at school and even at home by his forceful father and family. The beginning of the film show us his encounter with the titular rabbit, which is a moment that also closes out the film. This is something which reoccurs throughout; Harlon sees the white rabbit, over and over again.
imageHis life really gets complicated once he meets a girl, much unlike the other people he knows at school, named Julie (Robertson). She is sort of like Harlon; jaded, broken, and though she tries to look tough underneath it all, very sad. They bond. His only other friend is another bullied young boy named Steve (Lee), who aside from being deemed an outcast looks pretty small and young for his age. Unfortunately Steve has a lot of problems, though Harlon tries to help as best he can.

Eventually, Julie goes away. Harlon is left by himself mostly, as Steve has his own problems and his own family with which to deal. Then suddenly Julie reappears, but now she is a whole new person; she had problems, went away, and come home new. Harlon can’t deal with this, especially after he sees Julie is with his high school nemesis, the one who bullied him most growing up. From here, things spiral out of control, as Harlon finally starts to fight back against his bullies, and darker, more rage-filled fantasies start to rise up in him.
344a25e40348e8880a7ee7a861523022A lot of other reviews I came across seemed to file White Rabbit away with a lot of lesser, similar films. Yes, the scenario here seems fairly close to other dramas. Yes, the way it plays out could remind you of other films. However, this finishes in a very unpredictable manner. I honestly didn’t expect the finale of White Rabbit. Though I had some idea where this might be headed, the finale of the film really did catch me off guard. Because you resign yourself to a particular ending and then just before the credits roll it does a switch on you, finishing instead with an ambiguous note. Well, not so much ambiguous, as we can guess what Harlon will do, or rather what we hope he will do, but still the director opts not to show us any decision; only the option for decision. Of course, you’ll understand more once you see it. I’m being deliberately vague, so as not to ruin anything. Just know that you don’t necessarily have all the answers. Wait until the very last moment.

The acting here was spot on. Nick Krause did a fine job as Harlon. We basically watch him transform from a little boy, pushed around and abused by everyone near him, to a teenager, to a young man, and still abused just as much as when we first saw him. The real transformation comes after he’s all but lost every last thing in his life worth being sane for, and snaps while on the verge of becoming something far worse than anyone could ever imagine. Some say his acting here was wooden; I disagree. He played things subtly. He acted quite well, making Harlon out to be a little boy still trapped in the body of a young and burgeoning man. Because of the people around him, he was never able to really become a man, stunted by constantly being told (by bullies and his own despicable father) he’s a pussy or a faggot, or some other just as hurtful and terrible insult. I’ve personally never seen Krause in anything else. After this, I’ll be sure to at least check out another film he’s been in, or will be in.
Britt Robertson is pretty energetic and pulls off the character of Julie well; she reminded me a lot of a few girls I knew in high school, really fit the part.
VSZQfW.pngParticularly, though, I enjoyed Sam Trammell as Harlon’s father, Darrell. He was easy to hate because Trammell did a bang-up job. I really didn’t like him as a person, but as a character loved him. There was always a feeling just below his surface suggesting so much more about him than we actually get to see. I got the feeling Darrell was the typical sort of man who never became much, whether because of extenuating circumstances or his own doing who knows, but that’s the way he portrayed the character. Maybe Darrell was one of those hometown all-stars who played hockey or football growing up, everyone knew him, yadda yadda, and then never amounted to anything out in the real world. Regardless of what his actual story is, Trammell was great, and I really enjoyed watching his scenes with Krause; their troubled father and son dynamic truly worked.
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For a small, relatively unknown film, White Rabbit really delivers. Although there are a few points which could have been edited out to save the film’s pacing, overall it is really wonderful. There are a ton of similar films, as I mentioned before, which might seem just as good. But if you stick with White Rabbit through until the end you’ll really get a treat.

I don’t often try to jump ahead of the plot in a film because for one it ruins things for me if I start guessing, and two I’d rather try to stay in the moment when I can, but I figured this one out early on. Not that it ruined things for me – on the other hand, I then sat back and enjoyed the performances, as well as some of the scenery which was beautiful at times. But I thought I knew how this would go. I didn’t. Not many films truly surprise me in that sense, so for that White Rabbit really should be highly recommended. It plays on our fears, relating the story of Harlon to other similar stories, but without the end provided here. This will suck you in. It’s not a controversial film. Essentially, I believe this is a hopeful film. The end provides a glimmer of it. Though it doesn’t actually go ahead and serve up hope by the slice or anything, the very final moment gives us a tiny glimmer we can hold onto and walk away with. That’s the final message of everything. It shows as a bright spot in the darkness. Sort of how Harlon dies one spot of his hair a pink-ish colour; one bright patch in a sea of black. I loved it. Anthony Di Pietro hasn’t written anything else I know of, though after this I really hope to see more, as the story of White Rabbit is impressive.
lF1TIO.png This has been shown at a few festivals, et cetera, since its release in 2013, but recently Breaking Glass Pictures apparently picked up the distribution end, so hopefully this will soon make a wider debut for people to enjoy it as much as I did when I was lucky enough to catch this.