Back in 2003, Lionel Shriver published the Orange award-winning novel We Need to Talk About Kevin. Taking the form of a series of letters, the book chronicles a mother’s attempt to come to terms with the extent of her responsibility in the creation of a monster. The novel’s epistolary structure means that adapting it for the cinema was always going to horrify the book’s ever-growing legion of fans but a ripple of excitement passed through cinephilia when the news began to spread that a film had been produced and that it marked the long-overdue return of Scotland’s Lynne Ramsay, a director whose earlier films Morvern Callar (2002) and Ratcatcher (1998) demonstrated a real gift for tackling darker themes with a decidedly poetic sensibility. We Need to Talk About Kevin is not only a successful adaptation of a great novel, it also heralds the return of a director who has been absent from our screens for far too long. We Need to Talk About Kevin is nothing short of breath taking.
Continue reading →
Videovista have my review of Nicholas Ray’s sensationally subversive film noir Born to be Bad starring Joan Fontaine.
The film revolves around a young woman who preys on a couple’s insecurities in order to manipulate her way into landing a wealthy husband. So far, so femme fatale. However, what makes this film so strangely compelling is Ray’s abject refusal to turn his femme fatale into a misogynistic punching bag. Instead, Ray continuously stresses the woman’s basic humanity and her yearning to be loved and understood for what she really is:
The double-standard behind the femme fatale trope is made clear by virtue of the fact that both disreputable Nick and cynical Gobby use their charms to get what they want but nobody seems to think any less of them for it. Indeed, when Christabel encourages Curtis to think of Donna as a gold-digger, she is not summoning this belief from out of this air, she is tapping into Curtis’ quite legitimate concerns about his fellow humans: is anyone ever completely honest, or do we all bend the truth in order to make our lives a little bit easier?
Ray is perhaps best known for Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and the history of that film sheds an interesting light on Ray’s methods as a filmmaker. The title for the James Dean classic is actually drawn from a book by the psychiatrist Robert M. Linder entitled Rebel Without A Cause: The Hypnoanalysis of a Criminal Psychopath (1944), a book that reportedly inspired Ray to write the story that would become Rebel Without a Cause. James Dean’s character in that film is still considered to be one of the great manifestations of misunderstood youth, but if the character was based upon a case study of a criminal psychopath, what does that say about the character? Both Rebel Without a Cause and Born to be Bad take characters with negative traits and humanise them through a leap of empathy and understanding leaving me wondering whether Born to be Bad should not, in fact, be seen as a companion-piece to Rebel Without A Cause.