Dear Jim… (#7) Re: We need to talk about We Need To Talk About Kevin

“I received a perfectly lovely letter last week. It wasn’t yours.” – Groucho Marx, paraphrased.

we-need-to-talk-about-kevin-2011

Ezra Miller looking scary-sexy and just plain scary on the poster.

Dear Jim,

Although I did also receive your gracious letter, I thought it was particularly clever to use the stream-of-consciousness style and vague gesturing towards formal innovation to disguise the total lack of content while you complained about the rest of the internet’s lack of content.

In an effort to move these letters away from navel-gazing and hipsterish listicles complaining about listicles – because, you know, irony – I thought I’d just segue into talking about that advertisement for post-natal abortion we watched last-last week: We Need To Talk About Kevin.

I want to talk about it, because after watching it last week I keep going back to it in my head, piecing all the little details together and half trying to tie them all up, half just enjoying the pleasing patterning of the thing.

There’s this excellent episode of Every Frame A Painting about Lynn Ramsey’s filmmaking style which is worth a watch and my own addendum to his points about sound design and detail in What A Friend We Have in Kevin is this list of the most obvious visual detail that accretes: red goo.

  • Opening shot of some sort of weird tomato festival orgy thing. Happy Tilda Swinton looking young, covered in tomato pulp. Bright red colours.
  • Cut to older, unhappy looking Tilda Swinton in a house that has had red paint thrown over the front (shades of Hawthorne there). Her car too has been paint splashed and we see her driving, seeing the world through this red watery painty filter.
  • There is paint in the straggly bit of Tilda’s hair (Kevin also has straggly bit of hair in roughly the same place) as she waits for her interview.
  • Some of the food baby Kevin flings at the fridge is red. Much of it is a foul looking green though. Don’t feed babies gross stuff is the lesson here. The lesson for the rest of the movie is don’t feed them at all. People who starve to death in infancy have a tougher time growing up to ruin your life.
  • Numerous, thoroughly revolting looking strawberry jam sandwiches, all made by Kevin. One of which is slapped jams side down on the table.
  • Tilda, punched in the face, bleeds human blood (red in colour).
  • Kevin sprays black and red paint all over the walls of her newly decorated room. When Tilda angrily smashed the water pistol he used, it is full of red paint.
  • Hamster goo in the waste dispenser. Hamster goo is also ruddy due to the similarity in colour between human and hamster blood.
  • Injuries outside the school: red in colour c.f Human blood, colour of.
  • Tilda’s red dress, worn out with Kevin for dinner, worn out to office where gross man hits on her.
  • The one time Tilda strikes back breaking Kevin’s arm and causing a scar on his arm, we don’t see Kevin’s blood at all.

These details are striking and visual and there because they add up to something. There is the surface link between all these things – they are all part of Kevin’s torturing of Tilda, however indirectly. But they also have a purely visual effect, generating something similar to the rhyming of sounds in words. It’s pleasing to have these details strung out in a line. Like video collections of things fitting together neatly, or things happening in extreme slo-mo they have an aesthetic effect just by virtue of being beside each other.

On the other hand there is a detail like:

  • the sound of the sprinklers,

which repeats over several scenes, always with a sense of the ominous about them. Its an incidental detail in the final analysis but works as a sort of pavlovian hook so when we hear them over the garden scene our spidey-sense is doing whatever spidey-senses do (tingle right, as in Chuck?).

I don’t want to give you greater license to head towards abstraction, especially given your already spiralling contempt for our readers. But the efficacy of Ramsey’s these two types of repetition in detail struck me as interesting on a technical level, and something worth flagging up given how your next novel looks to be structured.

I look forward to reading your letter next week addressing the Presidential Debates.

Yours in detail,

Jon

P.S. The trailer for Westboro’s Boolean Kevins can be watched here.

 

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Filed under Dear Jim, Reading, The Silver Screen

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