I saw We Need to Talk About Kevin today, and I can’t get it out of my head. While there’s much to be admired in the film from a film-crit point of view (fabulous editing and sound work, a terrific Tilda Swinton) I found it baffling how a film adapted from a novel written by a woman, directed by a woman, starring a woman, centered on a woman protagonist can be so unflinchingly misogynist.
The film seems to wonder whether Kevin was born ‘evil’ or becomes ‘evil’ because of the terrible - and real - fact that a bond between mother and baby fails to materialize after his birth. I’m told this is not such an unusual case, and it is one of the great taboos of pregnancy. So here’s something we need to talk about: we need to talk about how pregnancy is not necessarily the ‘natural’ calling for some women. We also need to talk about how not all rejected babies turn into monsters, and not all mothers who can’t relate to their children are unnatural. Perhaps we need to talk about this not through such extreme and shocking examples, not through sensationalist stories of school massacres and Bates Motel murders; perhaps we need to talk about this outside of fiction.
I also wonder if we need to talk about how overused the word ‘evil’ has become, and whether it is at all a useful category of thought: don’t we run a risk of moralising everything, reducing gender roles to stereotypes of biblical proportions? Is Eve to blame for Cain’s crime? Is Eva to blame for Kevin’s? How old is this story? Can’t we talk about a different one?
Another thing we need to talk about is the accepted narrative that feminism=hating and fearing men/boys, and that feminists make bad mothers for boys (or that everything children do should be blamed upon mothers, for that matter). Peter Bradshaw falls right into this trap, and I find this deeply troublesome.
We need to talk about so much stuff that I think the last thing we need to talk about is Kevin (also because he happens to be played by the most irritating hipster since Vampire Weekend, as I had the pleasure to ascertain this morning, when he turned up at the press conference revelling in his own self-diagnosed “dark psychotic side” while sipping tea and acting all cooler than thou).