Toronto International Film Festival V

As a female writer struggling with domestic woes, Margot in Sarah Polley's "Take This Waltz" had it pretty easy. Consider Eva, played by Tilda Swinton, in another film by a non-American, female filmmaker, Scottish director Lynne Ramsay's adaptation of the Lionel Shriver novel "We Need to Talk About Kevin." A free-spirited travel writer, Eva opts to have a child, the Kevin of the title (played by Ezra Miller as a teenager).

Yikes. As they said in "Rosemary's Baby," he's got his father's eyes, and I don't mean the lunk-headed biological dad played by John C. Riley. Baby Kevin lies on the malevolence spectrum somewhere between "Damien Omen Two" and "It Lives." At first it's the continual crying, the refusal to be toilet trained, and the malicious hostility at a younger sister, that makes you think the kid's not right. And then it's mass murder. If you're pondering having a family, or even if you already have one, this might not be the best movie to see. Or maybe it is.

So what do you do when your only child massacres a number of his fellow students? Do you still love him? What if you never loved him at all? And was your not loving him,  even resenting him because he stunted your lifestyle, the reason for his wickedness? Certainly Eva's victimized neighbors think so, as they persecute and ostracize her, throwing red paint on her house and her car and cold cocking her on the jaw one day while she's skulking home from work.

There's a lot of red imagery in "Kevin," from the opening scene of Eva in her carefree travel writing days being absorbed into the pulpy mass of the annual "Running of the Tomatoes" at the La Tomatina Tomato Festival in Spain - a mush pit, as it were


- to Kevin's revolting appetite for ketchup and raspberry jam. I won't even talk about the guinea pig. But by the time it gets to a supermarket display of thousands of stacked tomato soup cans I thought it was getting to be too much.

I had a few other questions about the film which Tilda Swinton was kind enough to respond to when I interviewed her.

First, I asked her if she had  warm  memories of the Tomato Festival.

"Several thousand people were there, drunk, had been there since the day before." she recalled. "The smell from rancid tomatoes, sweat, piss, and - let's face it -testosterone, is a heady mix."

Nonetheless, the scene was essential because it captured a key element of Eva's character.

"It was her identity," she explained, "her sense of herself before she got pregnant. That whole sense of her wanting to be a world traveler is an important part of her resistance to what happens when she became pregnant. She's constantly looking over the shoulder of her life at some far off Patagonian hill. Of course the person who first picks that up is her son."

At the same time, the mother picks up on something in the child. Not that he's her antagonist, but that he is in fact her reflection.

"I think one of the tragedies in the story is how close the apple falls from the tree," she said.  "The worst thing for her is not that she looks at his misanthropy, violence, and his alienation and thinks, ‘I don't know what this is, this is truly foreign.' The worst thing is that she looks at him and sees herself and she's repelled by it."

Be that as it may, wasn't the kid just pure evil? I asked. I mean, look at his eyes..

"That's her fantasy," Swinton said. "The whole thing is through her eyes. So who knows what he really was. His father would tell you he was a good little boy. True, he's thick as a brick.


But I'm not going to tell you who's right because it's irrelevant. It's all a mess."

Some people find Eva's lack of maternal aptitude appalling, if not implausible. Swinton herself is  the mother of twins. Shortly after giving birth to them in 1997 she joked with her agent that the next project she wanted to do was "Medea." She can understand what Eva went through, even though she didn't have the same experience.

"I was up for it," she said. "When my children were born I remember noticing how much I really liked them. I was relieved that I felt that way, which was a surprise to me because I probably assumed that it would have come quite naturally. Something in my unconscious noticed that it might have gone the other way. That it was possible to look at your newborn child and not have that connection. And there are so many people who not only don't have that experience as parents, but also have that experience as children."

No wonder Eva sees red.


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