Tag Archives: violence

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) – Directed by Lynn Ramsay, starring Tilda Swinton

by Margaux Williamson


Kevin is a high school student who kills many of his classmates with a bow and arrow in a nightmarish lock-down at the local high school. The movie is mostly about his mother, Eva.

The movie is seductive and strange. Sometimes it seems like a regular indie-drama and sometimes it seems like a horror movie. Part of the narrative is told through non-sequential  flashbacks. These mostly focus on the relationship between Kevin and Eva. The scenes skip around from the morning of the killings to Kevin’s conception to the family’s breakfast table.

There is one scene with Eva participating in a tomato festival somewhere far away. It’s one of the few flashbacks where she is without her family. She’s alone, in a mob, covered, along with the rest of the mob, in the bloody mush of tomatoes. She looks euphoric. It’s a very unusual image – Eva covered in the red pulp, limp and being lifted by strangers. It suggests something sacred – or sinister. It echoes the high school massacre in colour and confusion.

The rest of the scenes take place after the massacre. They mostly involve Eva being villainized by herself and by her community for the horrendous crimes of her son. She doesn’t defend herself; she accepts the assumed punishment – straight to hell.

It still seems to be the most condoned form of misogyny to blame the mother for the sins and deficiencies of ourselves and others. And though it is becoming less fashionable to argue that nurture trumps nature, to defend Freud’s traditional psychotherapy, or to assume woman as the primary nurturers in a family, we, in the early 21st century audience, still understand that it would be outrageous if the mother tried to defend herself. We, and Eva, know there is absolutely no room for that.

So, Eva, ostracized, villainized and terrorized by her community, survives and lives and carries on.

The very exciting part of this movie is that instead of an eventual redemption offered by the arc of a traditional narrative, we are instead offered a more absolute redemption in the form of shifting perspective. It’s as though the director, Lynn Ramsay, managed to create a Gestalt-like optical illusion here in movie form.

In one moment, you are watching a intelligent indie-drama about a mother-son relationship gone terribly wrong; in another, you see a horror movie about a child born evil.

It’s not even that the movie moves back and forth between two different genres – it is just our own eyes deciding which way to see things at any particular moment. In either direction, the vision comes fully formed. The clues for both perspectives are in every scene: an ever-present bottle of wine next to Eva at the dinner table – the dinner table where Kevin gazes at his mother with sadistic eyes that he only lets her see.

As we watch the indie-drama, we see a mother who might have gotten some things wrong, or who might have some wrong things inside herself. As we watch the horror movie, we feel the thrill of the “bad seed” trope being used in the service of a reckless feminist fantasy – or, at least, a counter-misogynistic one: Some babies are just born bad, let us all marvel at the evil, let us remove our persistent gaze from the mother. Lynn Ramsay is the master of the bold and reckless feminist fantasy movie.

The scene of Eva alone at the tomato festival is an interesting one for these alternating visions. When you see the horror movie, you see a successful travel writer’s euphoric connection with the world outside the family – a scene far from trouble and pain.

When your eyes adjust to the indie-drama, you see a woman covered in red, engaged in a bizarre act of self-indulgence or abandon, or an act that maybe comes out of some need, small and twisted inside of her, that makes her seek such unusual forms of euphoria so far away from home; an act that foreshadows, in colour and perversity, her sons horrific crimes.

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Filed under margaux williamson, movies

Tuesday Musics: “Drone Operator,” by Jon Langford

by Carl Wilson

Above: Earlier art about unmanned flying things by Jon Langford.

I wanted to share this song with people from the moment I first heard it at Jon Langford’s concert in Toronto on Saturday night, and thankfully Joe from Mechanical Forest Sound – with his characteristic reliability – recorded it and has posted it.

Listen here.

Langford’s show at the Horseshoe was a three-part affair, opening with a Welsh miners’ choir and closing with Langford’s long-standing collaboration with Toronto’s own The Sadies (they started with one of my favourite songs by Langford’s landmark band, The Mekons – “Memphis, Egypt” from 1989’s Mekons Rock N Roll – “Destroy your safe and happy lives before it is too late …”). But this tune came from the middle set by a mini-version of Langford’s Skull Orchard band, with Jean Cook on violin and Jim Elkington’s fluid acoustic guitar leads.

It’s a protest song on an extremely timely subject, the ever-expanding American use of drone planes for targeted assassinations – at least, sort of targeted, as the song’s eponymous protagonist, the “Drone Operator,” tries to explain away at one point: “It didn’t look like a wedding/ It really wasn’t my call.” (The way the Obama administration minimizes civilian casualties in drone strikes, by the way, is essentially to redefine anyone within range of the hits as a non-civilian.)

What I find most compelling about the song is its ever-shifting perspective – a highly unreliable narrator who shrugs off several skins and prevents the song from ever taking a comfortably stable point of view on its subject. It opens with what sounds like the voice of the balladric everyman, the sort of humble farmer or working stiff you might find in a country song or in “Witchita Lineman” or in Billy Bragg’s “Between the Wars” –  but rather than being merely the victim or object of larger forces, this one is their tool, their willing and perhaps even thrilling vector. His humility is gradually replaced by classic hubris – “I’m like a god with a thunderbolt” – which then itself falls apart into what seems like a kind of drunken defensive shame, and then takes a final sleazy left turn into interpersonal threat.

The last move not only “brings the issue home” and the song full-circle, it suggests the other dark side of the drone technology, the possibility of its use for domestic surveillance – and not only by police and intelligence forces, but out of mail-order catalogs by possessive husbands and jilted stalkers.

Langford’s willingness and ability to play this creepy part to the hilt is a blessing of his punk roots, and makes the song far more devastating and sharp than the standard folkie-pacifist, didactic denunciation. And the way the music swerves out from its standard Celtic-western form between verses into the slightest hint of a Middle Eastern melodic oscillation, like an oud or an ululation, reinforces the theme of the invisible threads between “there” and “here” – that what is happening to those targeted in “the tribal lands” is happening, in insidious reverse effect, to the people sitting behind the consoles, the people who give the orders, and the people who pay their salaries (but were never given a vote on this) – a pervasive grid of alienation and intimidation, a multidirectional field of remote control.


I’m not really a soldier. I’m more likely to die

By car wreck or cancer than the eye in the sky

That follows them home, right into their window –

And they never know. They never know.


When I was a young boy I played all the games.

Straight out of grad school, someone gave them my name.

So I stumbled into a job with good pay.

Through traffic and construction, I drive in every day.


So don’t call me a coward, I know what is allowed –

I’m like a god with a thunderbolt sitting on a big white cloud.

I’m a drone operator, with targets to scan.

I sit drinking coffee, with one eye on the ground in the tribal lands.


Yeah, I’m a drone operator – I am part of the team,

While I study my monitor, wipe some dust from the screen.

It didn’t look like a wedding, it really wasn’t my call –

When it all was over, I went to a bar, drank beer and watched basketball.


Can I get you a drink? Yeah, I’d do it all again,

To stem the flow of body bags the politicians find so hard to explain.

But please don’t complain. There’s no pain, no pain.

When this bar is closed, I’ll follow you home, I’ll follow you home …

In through your window. You’ll never know.

You’ll never know. I’ll follow you home.

 Follow you home.

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Filed under carl wilson, music, Tuesday Musics

Little Boxes #95: Hammer Into Anvil

(from The Drifting Classroom, by Kazuo Umezu, 1974)

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Filed under chris randle, comics

Little Boxes #72: Spikes & Chains

(from “Violence City” in Chameleon #2, by Johnny Negron, 2011)

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Filed under chris randle, comics

Oldboy (2003) – directed by Chan-wook Park, based on the Japanese manga of the same name written by Nobuaki Minegishi and Garon Tsuchiya

By Margaux Williamson

(My friend Sean Dixon asked me if I was interested in reviewing Chan-wood Park’s celebrated movie Oldboy for his “Revenge Night” – an event involving songs, tales and plays on the theme of revenge to launch his new book “The Many Revenges of Kip Flynn”. I had been meaning to watch Oldboy for 7 years, so I said yes. I’ve been out of town, and couldn’t make it to the launch, so I recorded my review on video and sent it in.)

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Filed under margaux williamson, movies, TV/video