Lynne Ramsey cuts to the chase in a conversation in a way that's both refreshing and startling.
"Kids can be pretty cruel, ghastly creatures, you know," she said on the phone from London recently, "As well as beautiful lovable ones."
Ramsey is the director and screenwriter on "We Need to Talk About Kevin," a deeply disturbing film opening in Minnesota this weekend.
Critics have lauded the film, and in particular the performance of Tilda Swinton as Eva, a mother dealing with the aftermath of a high school massacre perpetrated by her son Kevin. Many tipped Swinton as a likely Oscar contender, but the Academy passed over her when announcing the best actress nominees.
Ramsey adapted Lionel Shriver's novel of the same name which was a best-seller in the UK, and much lauded in the U.S.
"I thought it was a modern classic in a way," said Ramsey in her soft Glaswegian accent. "It picks up in these ideas that I think are pretty taboo but really struck a chord with people."
The taboo is not the violence however. "We need to talk about Kevin" explores the world of a woman who is deeply worried about her antipathy towards her first-born child. Ramsey says she was attracted to the novel in the way it peeled back layer after layer of how what many people consider a basic human interaction can go horribly wrong.
"form>"It's kind of a fantasy about your deepest fears as a parent," Ramsey said. "What if you don't feel that instant bond? What if you don't feel that instant connection you are meant to feel? And what if the child perceives that? And on top of that the child is a very difficult child?"
Ramsey says Shriver's epistilatory novel proved a challenge to adapt. In letters to her husband Franklin Eva writes about what it's like to live in the community devastated by her sons actions, and how her own fears about Kevin grew over the years. Eva began worrying that Kevin is manipulative and antisocial very early on, but Franklin never witnesses Kevin's malicious side, and becomes feels Eva is imagining things.
Ramsey liked the subjective ambiguity the letters introduce into the story, but felt simply reproducing the letters even in part would make for a weaker film. She didn't even want to use any voiceovers because she believed that too would lessen the sense of subjectivity
She decided that she had to write from a viewpoint right inside her character's head.
"What if I put myself completely in Eva's position: almost take the form of the book and smash it up but in the way keep the same structure. It's very much she's looking back and trying to figure this out one way or the other. You are never quite sure whether what she is seeing is reliable or not."
In time though she also found she had to get inside Kevin's head.
"Sometimes it was thinking about almost having an empathy for him almost was very strange. To me I almost thought of it as a perverse love story."
"He knows that she doesn't like him," she continued. "She might be his mother and through that bond even love him, but liking and loving are very different things."
Ramsey says she didn't immediately think of Swinton as a potential Eva. However they are friends and when she sent the script to the actor Swinton responded with immediate interest.
"We naturally gravitated to one another and I guess I didn't know what a coup that was at the time.," Ramsey said.
This week I've picked four events that are worth your time, even if their descriptions seem either confusing, boring or downright contradictory. Just as you can't judge a book by its cover, you shouldn't always judge an event by its press release...
Theatre Novi Most presents a blending of two absurdist plays into "one slapstick-funny and dead-serious narrative" about the horrors of war. Impossible, you say? Not so fast. Initial reviews for this show have been enthusiastic, with one critic stating "Through brilliant observation and a taut thread of growing dread, [Lisa] Channer and [Vladimir] Rovinsky are able to close the first act with a searing moment of tragic reality that breaks the playful absurdity."
Stuart Pimsler Dance and Theatre
Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater always takes on issues that address the essentials of human nature. Its latest work claims to ask the question "Can separation and opposition become a connecting place for finding the beauty in difference?"
If you find the question itself rather confusing, never fear; where language fails, dance moves in to the rescue.
This exhibition has the dubious honor of sporting a title that sounds simultaneously redundant and incorrect (because white, physicists will tell you, is actually composed of all colors of the spectrum).
But don't let this keep you you from taking in what promises to be a fun show. Mpls Photo Center covers the walls with great photo talent, and always puts on a nice party for their openings. In this case, the opening is tonight from 7 - 10pm.
The word "functional" is not the most compelling choice for seducing art lovers in your door. But at the heart of all great craft is the notion of function, and seeing true artists re-imagine such basic objects as teapots and dinnerware can be downright inspiring. The exhibition at the Northern Clay Center opens today and runs through April 29.
What are you doing this weekend?
The critics love Graywolf Press.
Last night the Twin Cities publishing house was awarded its third National Book Critics Circle Award, for Geoff Dyer's Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews.
Fiona McCrae, director and publisher at Graywolf Press, said of the book: "Geoff Dyer's critical essays are in a class of their own. He really owns this form, and he runs--flies--with it."
Geoff Dyer lives and writes in London; Graywolf is his publisher in the United States.
"Ever since I began writing I hoped to be published in America, and once I started getting published it was recognition in America that I longed for" said Dyer. "Being shortlisted for an NBCC prize a few years ago was a huge thrill; to actually be awarded it this time is a great honor."
Otherwise Known as the Human Condition collects twenty-five years of essays, reviews, and misadventures, and has received wide acclaim for defying genres and infusing criticism with humor.
This is the second time that a Graywolf author has won the NBCC Award for criticism. Eula Biss won for Notes from No Man's Land: American Essays in 2010. In 2008, Graywolf poet Mary Jo Bang won the NBCC Award for her collection of poetry, Elegy.