Thursday, December 29, 2011
We Need to Talk About the Children It Seems
Yesterday's double feature told me there are good sullen faced kids like Hugo and there are very bad sullen faced kids like Kevin (We Need to Talk About Kevin). Both are good, very different movies about growing up, Hugo being the superior of the two films.
Both Hugo and Kevin identify with Robin Hood. Hugo because he lives and helps others through acts of theft. He lives in a train station, where he secretly maintains the clocks after the disappearance of his uncle, who had taken charge of him after the death of his father. The movie's consciously Dickensian as the orphan Hugo lives by his wits, evading the clutches of Station Inspector Gustav, played by Sacha Baron Cohen.
He's the most interesting, stand alone character in the movie, both because of Cohen's comic timing and also because I suspect Scorsese allowed him to improvise some of his lines. The rest of the characters, particularly the children, are a bit limp. When Hugo laments his loneliness when it seems he's unable to get his automaton working, it made me roll my eyes rather than sympathise with the poor kid.
The movie succeeds with its concepts. It almost feels like two movies--Hugo's coming of age story and the story of Ben Kingsley's character rediscovering himself. The latter tale is the better, involving scenes where Scorsese carefully reconstructed film sets of Georges Melies films. The sets and costumes easily trump the visually impressive cgi of the rest of the film.
Scorsese seemed obviously more connected to the plot about old movies as the kid adventure nominally at the centre, again, feels flat. It's a boy and a girl coming of age and there's business about how she happens to keep around her neck the only key, heart shaped, that will get Hugo's automaton working. It's impossible not to think of it as a sexual metaphor, and it's kind of interesting that it's the girl who has the key. But mostly this is a movie to see for the visuals, for the homages to early films, and for the supporting cast.
As usual these days in Scorsese films, he's assembled an impressive bunch of supporting actors, including, to my surprise, Christopher Lee as the owner of a bookshop. I love going to a movie not expecting to see Christopher Lee and suddenly having Christopher Lee turn up. He's the one who gives Hugo the book on Robin Hood.
For Kevin, the most important lesson in the tale of Robin Hood is that you can kill people with a bow and arrow.
I'm still not sure if We Need to Talk About Kevin is a dry, dark comedy or a movie that takes itself so seriously that it's unintentionally funny. It's entertaining in either case.
The story's told from the perspective of Kevin's mother, Tilda Swinton, who despite being some sort of famous world adventurer, is so bereft of imagination she's taken quite by surprise when her son murders a bunch of people. I'm not spoiling anything by telling you this--we learn about it fairly early on, as most of the story is told in flashback. We shift back and forth between Eva's (Swinton) recollections of Kevin growing up and Eva's attempts to adapt to life on her own with her murderer son in prison. For some reason that's not explained, everyone in town seems to blame Eva for what happened, and she's met with scorn in the street and at work.
You often hear about killers who are described as nice, quiet, and seemingly incapable of hurting a fly. That's not Kevin, who as a toddler is glowering and uncooperative, who wears diapers until he's five or six apparently because he enjoys humiliating his mother when she changes him. The kid breaks things, he damages Eva's belongings, motivated to do so clearly by a weird, irrepressible rage at his mother and reality. Eva takes him to the doctor once to see if he has autism, but otherwise throughout Kevin's violent asshole's tour of childhood she apparently never thinks to consult a psychiatrist. Thus the title, I suppose.
Perhaps it's her husband, Franklin, played with his hallmark obliviousness by John C. Rielly, who constantly puts Kevin's behaviour down to boys being boys. The only thing that he and Eva seem to have in common is lack of imagination and one wonders how they got together, their chemistry is so non-existent.
There are a lot of strange scenes of Eva trying to figure out what makes Kevin tick, like one scene where she decides to take Kevin to dinner. She comes downstairs dressed and finds Kevin eating a massive piece of meat. Most parents would probably upbraid the kid and stay home. Eva looks shocked and wounded and takes the kid to dinner anyway.
She asks Kevin, "How's school?" and he replies by mockingly going through a litany of clichéd questions a disconnected parent would ask their kid--what bands do you listen to, is there a girl you like, have you experimented with drugs. Any parent with a halfway decent sense of humour would probably laugh along with Kevin and cop to some awkwardness. Eva, again, freezes like a deer in headlights.
Kevin is so over the top, obviously Killer McKillingham and Eva is such an infallible straight it's like some kind of demented version of the Odd Couple where the Joker and Batman get an apartment together after Batman's had a lobotomy. Then there's another layer of inexplicable in scenes like the one where Eva accidentally walks in on Kevin masturbating. She's about to leave immediately but stops to look him in the eye. He looks back unflinchingly before she retreats with a shocked, "Oh!" like he was the one being weird. There are some shots that seem intended to indicate some sort of connexion between Eva's and Kevin's personality--there’s a repeated juxtaposition of Eva and Kevin washing their faces in a submerged, low angle shot, but this connexion is never really explored or elaborated on.
In any case, it's an enjoyable movie. I'm still not sure whether or not it's meant to be taken seriously, but funny is funny.