We Need to Talk about Kevin the Gerbil – and Tyrannosaur

Does anyone else want to read this book/film title in the sarcastic regional tones of 1980s puppet star, Roland Rat? I will add a sketch to remind or inform. This bombastic rodent presented British children’s TV along with Kevin the Gerbil et al. Roland and his insistently high-pitched companion would have brought welcome lightness to an intense story, which on page and screen is self important and humourless. Perhaps a comedy spoof in the making? You heard it here first

I recall Lionel Shriver’s book as one of the most important I read that year; though truly I read it in one sitting into the small hours because I didn’t want the pompous novel to take up another day of my life, and I skimmed heavily.

I wondered how a film could be made of such a heavily epistolary novel whose prose, like the family’s surname, runs to several syllables. Without the irritatingly grandiloquent writing style, the film feels like a vital part is lacking, especially as the film is near taciturn for much of the beginning. To translate the words into images doesn’t work and is unsatisfactory. I have always resisted the notion that film should privilege the visual over speech. Film has many tools – why use just one in a standardised way?

It seems that Lynne Ramsey has opted to adapt the novel in the style of The Tree Of Life crossed with Dogme. It’s all closeups of bits of ravaged faces and strange visual effects. She did the scrubbing the red paint off motif too often.

The film is alienating and boring. If I didn’t know the story, I would be lost – not only confused, but my attention and interest evaporated. I wished I were watching at home so that I could meander about, like so many cinema goers do, and didn’t care whether I missed bits of the film or not.

The book explores the why of Kevin’s actions – the film feebly says that he doesn’t know.  And there’s very little of the title  isn’t appropriate in the film – there’s little talking and the dialogue about Kevin is all but a trickle compared to the voluminous verbiage or outpourings penned by Madame Shriver.

The book drew me on the premise of what it would be to not love one’s child, not the rather obvious ‘nature or nurture’ that the film guides speak of. It feels that they’ve missed the point and the nuances of the story.

The other missing part is that the blurb of the book deliberately gave too much away. You knew what Kevin ‘s crime is – the shock is the missing facts. Being epistolary makes the reveal more surprising; but having no substitute for that device in the film loses the ‘killer twist’ (Picturehouses) its sting. The British Board of Film Classification once again forgot important details in their Extended Classification Information; it mentions sexual scenes and language, but nothing of the carnage of Kevin’s acts. Although brief, the last bodies might be quite upsetting. And I think it’s easier to guess whose they are in the film than in the book.

This is the second British gritty arts film I saw in a week (yes it is a US story, but Tilda and Lynne are both in Scotland and there’s BBC money in it). The other was Tyrannosaur, another of the kind of export we like to send round the European arts circuit, giving the impression that we of GB all live in mining towns on rough housing estates, killing ourselves and others, swearing every other word and shooting up our arms in misery.

Paddy Considine must have a thing about evangelical Christians. He writes and acts very convincing prayers but can’t resist making the born agains hide some sexually abusive hypocrisy. He also gets his types of God Shopper confused – this one prays like a Pentecostal and yet has a scared heart picture on the wall – which is very Catholic. It’s another outing for the weirdness of Eddie Marston, and is sometimes difficult viewing.

Both Kevin and Tyrannosaur deal with punishments for brutal murder. But while Kevin attacks innocent people (the film doesn’t ever speak of his targets and why they are chosen), Tyrannosaur’s ‘murderer’ is a monster (and no that doesn’t seem to be why the film is so called).  I am firmly opposed to capital punishment, but advocates would take the behaviour of Olivia/Hannah’s husband and say that prison is too good, why should he be kept at the tax payers expense, possibly to be let out and reoffend? His wife did us all a favour. And knowing the brutality inflicted on her, we can sympathise. I contrast this film with the Millennium trilogy, where a brutalised woman takes revenge and is never put in prison for it, and that – to my shock – we are meant to think ‘good for her’ for vilely raping the man back. His reputation is posthumously destroyed, but is seems that only  Hannah pays for her act that we can be sympathetic of if not condoning. Joseph who has killed 2 dogs and possibly his large ‘Jurassic’ wife spends less time in prison than the premeditated murder of Kevin, hiding under the guises of being a minor.

I go to the cinema to be challenged and inspired. I felt neither by the end of these films. The ‘lighter’ Woody Allen once again gave something wise that I could relate to, on a sense of place, idols and restlessness. I know which evening I valued more.

There is a another recent release with a Eva in it from Scotland – where’s Perfect Sense? – its tiny theatrical exhibition is making none.

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