These two characters have a lot in common. They’re both pathological manipulators who destroy things to intentionally aggravate people. They both have similar motives, the knowledge that there will be no consequences, or a positive view of the consequences, and they’re both a product of 1990’s culture. They both hostile toward authority and the expectation of conformity and push peoples’ buttons at any opportunity.
There is, of course, one minor difference. We know for sure from the start Bart Simpson will never hurt anybody, and we know for sure from the start Kevin will. When Bart crosses a line and actually does hurt somebody, he feels terrible about it, and makes an effort to rectify the situation. When Kevin crosses a line and hurts somebody, he feels amused or nothing at all. But other than his mother, everybody in the movie reacts to him like he’s Bart Simpson. They project all of Bart Simpson’s redemptive qualities onto him, and he’s happy to play the role for anyone but his mother.
His mother reacts like a normal person would react to his behavior. She knows exactly what he’s capable of but denies that it’s possible he’ll ever do it. This denial is a learned behavior: Every time she expresses anger at Kevin, her husband tells her she’s crazy and judges her for insinuating Kevin is anything but innocent. This attitude is a product of the culture of the last twenty years, partly ushered in by Bart Simpson. Everybody has a kind, sympathetic heart, any antisocial behavior is an externally motivated condition, and it’s up to you to possess the saintly understanding to accept it. In this regard, the mother is a star student. Kevin intentionally poops his pants to make her clean it, she loses control and breaks his arm. Ten years later, Kevin intentionally plants a CD with a virus on it as a trap to destroy her computer, and she says it is her own fault. She learns her behavior so well, she knows for a fact he intentionally maimed his sister, and doesn’t do everything humanly possible to take her out of his striking range. She accepts his behavior and learns to stop reacting to it. (Haven’t we all?)
From jail, Kevin remarks that breaking his arm was the one thing he respected her for. And it was the one time she ever managed to control his behavior. Everybody conditioned her to blame herself for his actions, then after the fact, blamed her for his actions, when it was her culture that bound her hands and preventing her from disciplining him. Not necessarily through physical violence, but through, as Kevin put it, ‘Rubbing his face in poop’.
Before people accuse me of being right wing again, please understand that I am just writing my analysis of a movie. :)
Still haven’t seen the film, but Shriver’s novel was definitely trying to provoke polarizing readings, of which this would certainly be one of the poles, Jirin.
She accepts his behavior and learns to stop reacting to it. (Haven’t we all?)
nuh, I would have cut my throat before I brought another child not to mention a small defenseless furry animal into the same environment as this clearly ( as portrayed) demonic little bastard & I think I’m just an average every day person well exposed to the influence of Bart Simpson on the western collective, it has not made me brain dead
You’re not the demonic little bastard’s mother.
This wasn’t just a little bastard biting Johnny in playgroup – your normalising of mum’s responses might work for that. This child (as portrayed, and I stress this again because it’s what we’ve been given to work with) is demonic in look, word and deed. Demonic, an art house Damien, no punches pulled on that score. Yet after around a decade of observing this his mother brings another child into the family, and apparently later, pets into the home at the same time as not seeking psychiatric assessment of the spiteful unpredictable hateful child she already has. This would seem to me to fall under the heading of criminal negligence, not some habit of ignoring bad behaviour.
To me her behaviour is far from normal, indeed the whole family dynamic was so lacking in anything remotely credible that it was for me anyway an irritating sometimes laughable distraction. The father was gormless clueless blind and ineffectual over a 16 year period to the point of apparently suffering from some mental condition. I thought the adaptation of this book failed because of a lack of attention to what was lost in translation, as in the book one understands they have an unreliable narrator, you do not have that luxury in the film, you have to try to make some sort of sense of the psychological dynamic contained in and of the film and the family dynamic here just looked absurd. I would have been happy with less attention to style and colour and more on context, accessibility to the characters and some recognition of – and adjusment in response to – that which was lost in transition from page to screen.
I am not sure what you mean to imply by “you are not the demonic little bastard’s mother” – if it is that were I, I too would have lost all perspective on what was going on around me and made such highly questionable choices I find that (as a mother)to be a pretty reductive attitude towards the ability of women to think objectively about what they have spawned.
But Meg – even when she tried to point out how evil her son was, she was always brushed off by her husband (who obviously should have been supporting her and listening to her – especially since she was the one at home with Kevin all day). I think the best course of action would have been to try to get some family counseling, but even then – Kevin is an expert manipulator and probably would have been able to get through therapy without really even changing.
What would you have done, Meg?
I thought the characterizations in the film were very unreal, but if there is such a thing as pure evil in a kid like that, I don’t know if our current world is equipped to handle it. Which is an interesting statement totally aside from the question of whether or not pure evil is possible.
It has nothing to do with women either. I don’t think men can think objectively about what they have spawned either. Nor can they think objectively about things that impact their career, just look at the whole Sandusky situation. People pretended it didn’t exist because letting it out would hurt their career, so they rationalized doing nothing.
Nobody wants to think something they’re vested in could be corrupt and evil, and when they see it is, cognitive dissonance kicks in and tells them it’s really not.
I think it is a tendency of people in the modern world to see a person like Kevin and think Bart Simpson or Dennis the Menace, and that is the core of the reason Kevin was tolerated and even supplied with tools of destruction.
And I think the reason Eva wanted a second child and didn’t mention her pregnancy early enough to have the abortion discussion is that she just wanted to have what other mothers had instead of what she had.
Regarding ‘pure evil’, I guess that depends on whether you feel behavior due to a person’s brain lacking the ability to experience compassion constitutes ‘evil’. For me if somebody is evil, it implies they had the opportunity to be good and chose not to. The movie M has a lot of interesting discussion of that question.
“The father was gormless clueless blind and ineffectual over a 16 year period to the point of apparently suffering from some mental condition. I thought the adaptation of this book failed because of a lack of attention to what was lost in translation, as in the book one understands they have an unreliable narrator, you do not have that luxury in the film, you have to try to make some sort of sense of the psychological dynamic contained in and of the film and the family dynamic here just looked absurd. I would have been happy with less attention to style and colour and more on context, accessibility to the characters and some recognition of – and adjusment in response to – that which was lost in transition from page to screen.”
This. A lot of the context has to be read into the style Ramsay uses, instead of the style providing it. John C. Reilly’s character seems only to appear as a voice over Tilda Swinton’s shoulder saying, “It’s your fault because I lurve him.”
However, acknowledging unreliable narrator, it’s close enough to ‘the point’ of the stylized filmmaking that I cannot write it off. Nevertheless the portrayal of Kevin is unaccountably more engaging than his relationship with his mother. I’d like to continue Jirin’s theme and draw a comparison between how Bart is more entertaining than Marge, but actually I don’t find significance in that comparison so… there’s my preterite answer to the OP, I guess.