The synopsis is going to be pretty short because it is very easy to spoil you. The plot is not linear – you follow an middle-aged woman, apparently living alone, who tries to put her life in order after some traumatic event. She is remembering some bits and pieces of her previous life and that’s how the viewer is finding out more and more about her and her family and, most notably, her eldest son, Kevin. Kevin happens to be doing his time in prison. His mother visits him regularly but they hardly talk to each other or even look at each other at all. You know something must be wrong but you can never guess how wrong.
I was encouraged to watch that movie because of Bloddeued’s review of the book by Lionel Shriver it was based on. Apart from that, as soon as I learned it featured Tilda Swindon as Eva, the main heroine, I was hooked. I knew I was in for a family drama but I never expected anything so dark and twisted.
What happens when bad children happen to good, ordinary parents? Does it mean they are not, in fact, as good as they had imagined themselves to be? What can be done in order to prevent the worst? Is there anything at all that can change a juvenile psychopath? Who is really responsible when he starts to commit crimes? There are no easy answers to such questions.
Eva, the former free spirit and an avid traveler who has written books about her experiences, finds herself all of a sudden chained to her unwanted son, Kevin (Ezra Miller). She tries her best but it is a very poor best. I grant it – the boy, contrary to his younger sister, Celia (Ashley Gerasimovitch), has always been difficult to put it mildly – as a child he seemed to be deliberately slow to speak and very hard to potty train, overall having a knack of driving his mother crazy and keeping his besotted father docile at the same time. There are several alarm bells ringing now and then which Eva and Franklin, her husband, prefer to ignore because it is easier – especially Frank is the world champion in pretending that ‘nothing untoward happened’ even after a very serious and rather suspicious accident that befalls his little daughter. Finally, right on his 16th birthday, Kevin commits a Columbine-style massacre. The more or less ordinary life of his family is thrown into a tailspin and Eva, now left completely alone, is bearing the brunt of his crimes. Women who recognize her slap her on the streets and harass her in shops e.g. breaking all eggs she intended to buy. The front of the little house she rents and her car are vandalized regularly. She lives in constant stress, expecting another attack every moment. Does she deserve such a treatment? Most of people are sure she does. Her son proved to be a cold-blood murderer at the tender age of 16 – it must have been her fault somehow.
Swinton portrays Eva as a ghost, haunting her past and haunted by it. She is gaunt, hollow-eyed, stunned as if she can see only memories. It is not that she created Kevin, but Kevin, played excellently by Miller, created her to some extent as well. Eva’s only identity is now that of someone who gave birth to horror, all her previous ambitions and achievements forgotten. It was heart-rending and, to tell you the truth, there were many moments when I wanted to shake both the hapless parents and make them act more decisively – they used to be tolerably well-off, facing such a challenge they could have afforded a child psychologist or two. In the end, the audience is left with the same unanswerable question: what made Kevin do it? Nature or nurture? A mother supplies both. Kevin is flesh of her flesh and perhaps an inability to judge him properly is her awful biological destiny. What’s even more terrifying Kevin himself seems to be a more or less willing victim of his inner demons.
My only carping – sometimes the film was moving forward too slowly. Perhaps it was done so in order to show the inner torment of Eva thinking time and again about her former mistakes but what can be done, I admit I am a bit impatient.
A chilling drama about the sources of evil without easy answers to difficult questions. Definitely something for a more mature audience, people who like thinking while watching a movie. I liked it very much although I admit it was hardly flawless.