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Thursday 27 October 2011

We Need to Talk About Kevin, Film directed by Lynne Ramsay, 10 out of 10

In his recent book, which appeared in the US under the title “The Science of Evil” (UK title Zero Degrees of Empathy), the British neuroscientist Simon Baron-Cohen reports on results of his research on the brain. His empirical studies identified an “empathy-circuit” in the brain. Empathy is the ability to put oneself into the position of an other and sense what he feels. Studies on psychopaths, who have committed heinous crimes, show that their empathy circuits are absent or do not functio properly. They do not feel empathy with other people. Baron-Cohen finds zero degrees on his scale of empathy a more useful concept than the commonly used term evil. The lack of empathy could also occur temporarily, i.e. while in a rage. Moreover it could be focused on some people while empathy is shown towards others. Baron-Cohen's research points to a possible genetic component as the cause, but the evidence was as yet insufficient to draw the conclusion that there are identifiable groups of genes leading to absence of empathy, what we commonly call evil. Not everyone whose empathy circuit is disturbed turns into an evil criminal, though. Baron-Cohen is convinced that nurture can do a lot to mitigate nature.

We Need to Talk About Kevin, the film based on the book of the same name by the female writer Lionel Shriver. It is perhaps the ultimate nightmare of every educated, intelligent, no non-nonsense mother brilliantly captured on celluloid.

Eva (Tilda Swinton) lives on her own in a small very modest home. She is subjected to the furtive, hostile looks of her neighbours. Her house and car are doused in red paint every day. As the story moves between present and past we find out what the circumstances were that have led to the situation in which Eva finds herself.

A modern and rather independent woman working as a well known travel-writer she meets Franklin. They marry and have a son, Kevin. Kevin is more than a handful to his mother from the beginning. A crybaby who drives his mother to distraction. Even as a small child he is highly manipulative. From the youngest age he devotes his energy to probe the areas where he can provoke and hurt his mother. This also involves manipulating his father, his doctors and others with his charm and intelligence. The cruel psychological war he has unleashed on his mother escalates as he grows into a teenager.

Eva won't be defeated. She does not break down, stands up to Kevin and has another child. A less strong person would have broken down, sent him away or left, particularly since her husband is of no help to her in raising their son. There are moments when Eva loses it, but Kevin is not interested in the final victory. He wants the thrill of the escalating war on his mother, the one worthy target of his manipulative narcissistic obsession. How far will Kevin go in order to provoke his mother to give up on him?

Lynne Ramsay's script (written with Rory Kinnear) and outstanding direction tells this compelling tale brilliantly. Tilda Swinton's perfo
rmance is among the best of 2011. Ezra Miller as the teenage Kevin is magnetic and the chemistry between Swinton and Miller makes the film a candidate for many prizes. This film is not advised for couples thinking of starting a family, though.

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