Dir: Lynne Ramsay
Cast: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller.
It has been nine long years since Ramsay’s last feature, the wonderful Morvern Callar, and I was interested to see how the long struggle, and eventual failure, to bring The Lovely Bones to the big screen has affected her. Thankfully, the break has seen her return anew, braver and bolder than ever.
The film centres round Eva (Swinton) and her relationship with her son Kevin (Miller). It’s clear to Eva from day one that something is seriously wrong with Kevin. However, her husband Franklin (Reilly), feels she is imagining things and exaggerating. The film cuts between different periods of their lives, intermingling fragments of Eva’s memories and extracts from the present, and showing the breakdown in relations between Eva and Kevin. The divisions within the family are exacerbated by the arrival of a younger sister, and the tension mounts as we move towards the inevitable finale.
The first 30 minutes of the film seem to be a concentrated visual and aural assault on the audience. It’s a brave and risky endeavour, which Ramsay pulls off with aplomb. It leaves you feeling that you’re chasing after the characters as it seamlessly jumps between different periods along the timeline. Her extraordinary use of sound, combined with the mesmerising cinematography of Seamus McGarvey, keeps you firmly out of your comfort zone. Indeed the whole film never lets up for a second.
The imagery here is startling, and while the use of red paint, tomatoes and jam to symbolise blood is perhaps laid on a bit thick, as a cinematic work it handles the subject matter with sensitivity. After the half hour mark, the film settles down with fragments becoming whole and corporeal, seemingly mimicking Eva as she tries to get her life back on track. Indeed, as the film progresses, we see her increasingly desperate attempts to try and wash the metaphorical blood from her hands.
Much has been made of Swinton’s performance as we see Eva her trying to come to terms with her guilt for Kevin’s actions. She carries her burden like a cross. Is Kevin a manifestation of her post-natal depression? Is he a product of her inability to love him? There’s a beautiful scene where she dunks her head into a bowl of water only for her face to merge into that of her sons. The nurture verses nature argument is prevalent throughout, asking many questions, but giving the audience no answers. Miller steals every scene he’s in for me. His portrayal of malignant apathy is truly terrifying. The moment where you see Kevin snap, producing a glimpse of true evil, is one of the most disturbing, yet subtle scenes you’re ever likely to see on film. How Ramsey manages to coax such a performance out of Jasper Newell as a young Kevin is also beyond me.
Not since Requiem for a Dream have I left a cinema feeling so wounded, but I’m not sure a candy-fed mainstream audience will be able to process this. There is no attempt to justify Kevin’s actions. Blame is not apportioned and it’s left to the viewer to draw their own conclusions. When Eva finally demands an explanation from her son all he can come up with is “I used to think I knew why, but now I’m not so sure”.
It’s a shame Ramsay never got the opportunity to make The Lovely Bones. The Jackson adaptation left me cold, whilst I think her interpretation may have flayed me alive.