I used to believe that a mother's love was unconditional. Some kind of chemical reaction or mystical force was supposed to focus nothing but love and understanding onto this innocent new life. As my belief in higher powers -- from the God of the Christian Bible to the Hulk of Hulkamania -- eroded throughout my life, I took comfort in knowing that the unflinching, all-encompassing love of a Mother was as reliable as a sunrise and ten times as warm.
Then came Bonnie.
She was six feet and nine inches of quivering muscles in ill-fitting clothes that stretched and frayed around her chiseled frame. The chemical toilet smell of cheap buy-by-the-gallon bodybuilding posing oil swirled around her like a personal atmosphere. She likes the scent, says it makes her feel "girly". Even in her heyday, wrestling under the name "Iron Thighs Bonnie" (finishing move: the Inverted Scissor-Lock Torso Vice), projecting a positive feminine image was important to her.
She had come to Gary's to assess the state of her ailing son Edgar, light of her life. The intended side effect was that Penelope would vacate Bonnie's place once her home with Gary had been restored to a more livable state, preferably sans Edgar. It's not that Bonnie didn't love her daughter. They were just different people. Bonnie liked to solve disagreements with a regulation arm wrestling match while Penelope took the path of intense tantrums and suicide threats. Different approaches. Equal results.
"Holy cripes!" were the first words I heard Bonnie speak as she and Penelope entered. I marveled at how her voice sounded exactly like Jennifer Tilly with a fresh neck injury being played at slow speed. "How many god damned cats do you have?"
Upon hearing her voice, Gary leapt up from the couch and wrapped a blanket around his waist. In order to minimize laundry, he and Edgar had been wearing as little clothing as possible. Despite forging a solemn pact to not let it get weird, a real creepy vibe took over pretty quick. But the effort of doing laundry weighed against the awkwardness of constant semi-nudity was no contest at all.
Edgar was now mostly mobile, able to move around with crutches. The metal bar keeping his spine from collapsing had improved his posture dramatically. As much of a twisted, stinking, unshaven monstrosity as he was, Bonnie wrapped her meaty appendages around him in a warm maternal embrace when she saw his full condition.
Bonnie's plan for Edgar's rehabilitation consisted mostly of her ordering Penelope and Gary to clean up this "shit-sty" while she and Edgar watched movies. Since Edgar's copy of Road House 2: Last Call had mysteriously been shattered into pieces with a hammer, they were left with the option watching 2-Headed Shark Attack starring Brooke Hogan or We Need To Talk About Kevin starring Tilda Swinton. Since both had viewed Brooke Hogan's shark opus multiple times to the point of memorization, they settled on the alternative.
We Need to Talk About Kevin tells a story in fragmented time. It follows a woman named Eva who is haunted by her memories and cruel neighbors who vandalize her property. The torment of her memories and the splattered red paint across the front of her house all lead back to her son, Kevin.
While it is not revealed until later in the story exactly what Kevin has done, it's barely a spoiler to reveal that he has carried out a heinous massacre. In the story's present, he is about to turn 18 and be shipped off to an adult prison. But in flashbacks, leading all the way back to his conception, he is shown to be rotten to the core.
Kevin's birth is traumatic for Eva, as if he is inflicting pain intentionally. Post-partum, she can't even bring herself to look at him. But he’s calm in the arms of his father, played by John C. Reilly in a curious bit of casting. With he's with Eva, there's only screaming and crying in a pitch so hideously constant that she takes comfort standing near a construction site just to drown it out for a brief merciful moment.
"You fussed like that." Bonnie lovingly nodded to Edgar.
"Was I a fussy baby, too?" Penelope asked as she scrubbed cat urine from the carpet nearby.
"Shut your lunch-hole," snapped Bonnie, "we're trying to watch this."
It would be easy to say that Eva is a bad mother. Her dislike of Kevin is palpable and at one point even said out loud, more or less, as she frustratingly informs him that she longs for the life she had before him. There's cleverness in how her anger and fatigue are presented as just shy of total selfishness. At first she seems simply unsuited for motherhood, especially in the eyes of her husband who witnesses her reacting to Kevin’s behavior out of context. He sees Kevin as blameless. It’s not until they have their second child that Eva’s abilities as a mother are engaged.
Kevin is presented as the most evil child ever born. Before he can speak he is a master manipulator. He's resistant to potty training, seemingly just so that his mother will have to clean him long after other children have outgrown such things. At one point, after putting him in a new diaper, Kevin defiantly soils himself on purpose, giving Eva an evil smirk that seemed a bit over the top. That is, until Bonnie lovingly said to Edgar "Oh, you used to do that all the time. You were so adorable. My special little man."
"You were never around!” Penelope erupted. “I always had to clean him up!" For a moment the air crackled with intensity. Bonnie's head slowly turned and trained down on Penelope.
"I was a great mother." She hissed.
"Are you kidding? You made me practice the full-nelson on him! That's why they put him in that special class!"
Bonnie jumped up and called for a winner-take-all arm wrestling match at the kitchen table to settle this latest disagreement. Gary took a break from hunting and evicting the various feral cats that had taken advantage of the open door policy he had adopted in Penelope's absence and sat next to Edgar on the couch. They watched the movie in silence and Gary was soon engrossed, able to hook into the film's jagged narrative.
There is an ominous use of splatter in the film. Not blood splatter, or at least not exclusively. The opening scene is a flashback to some kind of European tomato-smashing festival which looks like the aftermath of a zombie attack. The aforementioned vandalism by the neighbors resembles blood, which Eva tries to scrub away like Lady Macbeth for much of the film. Even a scene in which Kevin makes a sandwich is sloppy and visceral, the way the jelly oozes from the bread like a bullet wound. Visually, this film is hemorrhaging.
We Need to Talk About Kevin is a dark, unsettling film. I found myself wondering how Eva could continue to go on living after all we witness her endure. Some may attribute it to strength of character or a will made of iron, as strong as Bonnie's thighs. But she is not strong. There's simply nothing else she can do but accept that she is a mother, even if her child is pure poison. Perhaps the search for meaning in motherhood will be her redemption, but all evidence points to it likely being her purgatory.
As the movie drew to a close, Bonnie approached Gary, her biceps glistening and twitching like an electrocuted catfish after defeating her daughter in over a dozen regulation arm wrestling matches.
"How about you, cupcake?" She asked Gary, presenting her meaty hoof. "You wanna go for the title? One shot, Oklahoma hobo sudden-death rules."
"Nah, I'm good." He replied, to which Bonnie shook her head in exaggerated disappointment.
"You're a simpering little panty waist, ain't ya?" She nodded to Penelope. "No wonder she fakes it."
After a brief silence, Gary calmly stood up and ran his hands over his clothes, smoothing out wrinkles and wiping away mangled cat fur. He ran his fingers through his hair and took a quick snort of air, composing himself. He raised his right hand, his index finger ejecting out like a spring-loaded mouse trap, and he pointed to the door.
"What?" Bonnie laughed. "You want me to leave?"
Gary calmly nodded.
"And what if I don't?"
Gary gently walked over to her and motioned for her to lean down, then whispered something into her ear. Her eyes went wide and she stood up straight, looking at Gary who simply nodded, confirming that what he had just whispered to her was gospel truth, to be treated as the Word of God.
"Edgar, baby," she said, "you're gonna come stay with mama."
I never found out what Gary had whispered to Bonnie, but within minutes she and Edgar left. Alone at long last, Gary and Penelope collapsed on the couch, exhausted and, despite Gary’s laundry conservation efforts, nearly naked from shedding their cat-waste scented outfits with no clean clothes in which to change into. For a moment, an unfamiliar but not unwelcome tranquility filled the room.
“How was the movie?” She asked him softly.
“Pretty good,” he shrugged. “The kid was nuts.”
“Sorry about my mom.”
“That’s all over now. Don’t sweat it.”
"I want to have a baby."
Gary sat motionless, not even letting out a breath for some time.
Somewhere in the distance, a cat meowed.
Image courtesy of the author