The sound of a pulsating sprinkler – ch-ch-ch–ch – permeates the scene. These are images and sounds, as we learn much later in the film, from Eva’s memory – only she was privy to them. And that evening – with the floating white curtain, the nighttime light, the sound of the sprinkler – is the evening that represents the bloody crux of Eva’s journey. It is, for her, the turning point of her life, where she is forced to face not only literal violence – a moment where one privileged, complacent life ends and a new destitute life begins – but also a metaphorical, psychological violence that forces her, finally, from one identity, to which she’d been desperately clinging, into a new identity. The film, then, is not primarily tied to literal, factual events that comprise a life journey, but rather to a more subjective journey of the mind and of the emotions – Eva’s mind and emotions.
She herself seems numb or sleepwalking, living in the wake of what we soon realize has been some horrific event. But the film shifts so swiftly and so fluidly between that present and the past—several different pasts, in fact—that we are often unsure at first whether we are seeing the present or a past and we are unsure at first of the particular past. But this fluidity of time, this lack of any chronology--as the red blinking 12:00 in Eva’s bedroom indicates--represents Eva’s mindset: for her, the past is her present; it informs her present, overshadows her present; she sees it and feels it in everything.
Likewise, the central horrific event of Eva’s life informs and overshadows everything that came previous to it so that every point in time is in some way the same. Every moment in filtered through the red-colored lens of Eva’s horror. Time is round, we might say, not linear.
which have no ordered time frame –-it is a film that demands second and third viewings, for a first viewing is incredibly disorienting; our senses are bombarded with images and sounds that feel powerful – almost unbearable in their power - but which we do not quite understand, and the sense of time is conflated and compacted to such a degree that, in the natural reaching for a linear path, we are easily lost, perhaps even frustrated. We are not used, I think, to feeling a story, to tracking a character’s journey via such tangentially connected, emotive, and personally significant sounds and images; we perhaps long for more dialogue or even some exposition to give us a foothold. But giving in to the film’s sensory journey via Eva’s emotions and state of mind offers a cinematic experience quite unlike any other– Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life imagistic journey, as it is linked to the mind of the main character might possibly be one unique parallel – and it is such an uncomfortable, unsettling journey that perhaps we are all the more resistant. But if we are willing to give in to this journey and if, further, we are willing to take the journey twice or thrice, the path through the film is clear. Impressionistic and associative as Eva’s story is –with her dreams, her present, her memory—all whirled together, it is nonetheless a journey. Eva’s story does have an arc and a distinct resolution.
where someone – we don’t know who - is screaming, “Nooo!” -- and louder and longer, “Noooooo!” We realize, slowly, through the haze and the fractured images and confused sound, we are in a hospital, at a birth; a nurse or a doctor says, “You must stop resisting, Eva,” and we see Eva’s face in the round hospital mirror, wrenched, topsy-turvy, upside down – clench-mouthed.
And Eva screams on, her experience and herself a mirror of the prisoner on the ground, restrained by guards. Eva’s mind conflates what she sees in the present – the prisoner – with her past, with her own struggle – in this case, the moment in the past in which motherhood had been thrust upon her. Kevin’s birth she associates with forcible imprisonment and with her own screaming and ineffectual protest against it.
and almost immediately begin knocking at her door, threatening and demanding, “Trick or treat! Candy! Candy!” And Eva frantically searches her bare cupboards for a pacifying offering for these children, but she has nothing, nothing to satisfy them, and so she hurriedly turns off her light, a poor attempt to indicate she is not at home, and shrinks into a corner,
Pound, pound, smack, smack, “Candy! Candy!” The children are monsters. Her toddler, her child is a voracious monster, demanding food and then hurling it from him in a vicious attack upon her being and senses.
the career woman and "Legendary Adventurer";
she is a mother, “Mummers.” Eva becomes a name absolutely tied to motherhood, and the universal overtones of Eva - “Eve” - cannot be missed, as Eve means “living” or “mother of the living.”
Eva isn’t one of them, clearly. She is isolated even as she is surrounded and suffocated. And as she walks later, alone, her expressionless face is like a horrible wince of pain as she is enveloped by a wave of children, skipping, pink little girl ballerinas.
Eva in the midst of the bulging bellies, Eva in the midst of darling pink tutus – these are just two more images of Eva, showing us so vividly her state of mind, her sense of herself in its disjointed state, her mind disconnected and resisting her physical state, her pregnancy, herself as mother. Unlike the women around her, her pregnancy is something she cannot embrace as something she has chosen for herself – it is, rather, an alien imposition upon her very being.
but at home with Kevin, she tries. Kevin’s screams cannot be drowned out by even a jackhammer,
and her body is not her own—she lies exhausted, with outlandish, engorged breasts when Kevin finally sleeps
—but alien as this motherhood is to her, she tries.
Lifting baby Kevin up in one scene, she smiles at him desperately, her smile almost ferocious in its effort;
in another scene, she sits on the floor to play ball with the toddler Kevin, plastering on her smile at intervals again in her effort to engage the glowering boy by sheer force of action.
Throughout the film we see those threads of the self that Eva would like to be, the self she sees herself as – a self that is disconnected from the domesticity of motherhood and, specifically, from Kevin. Some early images of the film (though still bathed in red, and thus bathed in Eva’s present mind’s consciousness of Kevin) are of Eva alone, her pre-Kevin self, exulting in the tomato festival of Spain, limbs splayed and lolling in utter freedom and lips joyously parted.
Peppered throughout the film, too, are images of Eva and Franklin in their early days of falling in love; here, again, Eva is joyous, full, exultant.
Eva’s conception of herself, we see , through these images of freedom and through the paired images of Eva’s various moments of resistance against the bonds of motherhood, is as a free agent. Her love for her husband, Franklin, is something she chose, something her emotional and sexual self gravitated towards organically and freely – her relationship with Franklin is mutual and mutually fulfilling; her career, too, as it is so linked to world travel, is something she chose naturally, chose passionately, as we see in her exultation in Spain, as we see in the room in her home that she tenderly covers with world maps – her designated room, her room, so satisfyingly for herself alone.
Kevin intrudes into her emotional and sexual bond with Franklin (often literally interrupting); he disrupts her ability to travel anywhere she likes at any time, as we hear in a remembered argument with Franklin in which he protests her desire to leave for Ecuador; Kevin, as we have seen, invades her very physical self – her belly, her breasts, her body’s need for sleep. And while Kevin goes on to do a truly horrific deed, we must acknowledge the fact that Kevin the baby—and even his later self, as a toddler, as a 6 or 7 year old, as a teenager – is not actually, based on the facts we can glean, a monster. The factual things we can confirm that Kevin is, the things we see him do are not, in themselves, monstrous. Apart from the actual murder, there is no real, factually demonstrable thing that Kevin does that is horrific, that makes him a literal demon seed. As a baby he cries. A lot. Many babies do. As a toddler he is non-responsive, or he hurls food. He has potty training issues. Lots of young children do those things or have that issue. (Show me a normal child who hasn’t. Let me introduce you to mine.) As a teenager, he teases his little sister, demands she get him soda, and vacuums her hair. (Is there such a thing as a big brother who doesn’t torment his little sister?) Certainly, there are suggestions of Kevin’s propensity towards violence. Eva believes he has killed his little sister’s guinea pig; she believes he has poured Dran-o in his little sister’s eye; and he keeps computer viruses, inexplicably, on disks in his room. But the computer virus might be a thing any disgruntled teenager (or adult, in fact) might keep, and the horrific things Eva believes Kevin does are suggestions Eva herself makes – these things are confirmed by no one else. We don’t know they are true; we never actually see him do any of those things. We are following her character, so we do believe her –or we want to –but the evidence of the film demonstrates Eva’s limited perspective as a narrator. Can she, in fact, interpret Kevin for us, when from the moment of his birth, we see she has refused him, resisted him as hers? Can we, in fact, rely on her interpretation of her memory of the events of the past (a double remove – an interpretation of a memory) when her memory and her interpretation are all filtered through the murders Kevin commits? All filtered through her own desire to disassociate herself from him? All filtered through the idea that his very being is an assault upon hers?
It is the one key scene, however, of Eva’s mind, the one linked to the very opening images – of the dim evening with the white billowing curtain and the sound of the sprinkler—that finally reveals, just how far Eva might be misremembering or misinterpreting any number of the events of her life, especially those related to Kevin. The film returns us, at various points and often, to the sound of the sprinkler, to the image of the curtains. We hear the sprinkler, for example, when Eva discovers that Kevin has splattered ink all over her lovingly decorated map room. We hear the sprinkler when the camera focuses in on Kevin’s little sister’s guinea pig. That sound filters Eva's memories of the times Kevin had assaulted her - or when she feels he had assaulted her.
and out onto the lawn, where Eva discovers the final horror: her husband and her daughter lying wet in the grass, dead, shot through with Kevin’s arrows. And the sprinkler shoots up and water rains down on them, an unrelenting, impassive. But with this sound and image, we understand the deep disconnect of Eva’s mind-–the separation between an actual event and a memory of an event. The sprinklers we see on the lawn are the oscillating, not the pulsating, kind.
They should make no sound at all, barring, perhaps, a very faint hissing of water. But the scene is not silent. The sound of a kind of sprinkler that is not, in fact, actually in the scene, confusingly permeates it. Image is disconnected from sound; image and sound are out of joint. And this sign, among many others, is an indication of several key things: of Eva’s unreliable memory of her past; of the permeation and impact that this event has had upon her – her memory of the sound of it, filling other moments of her past; and, I think most notably, of the disconnect at the heart of Eva’s very being.
– the maddening, tight shirts we’ve seen him wear and that have made her and us uncomfortable throughout the film. She makes a bed for him, taking infinite care over the edges, tucking them smooth, and she places Robin Hood on the bookshelf, a book representing his violent action, her possible complicity in it, and the bond she and he share, a moment of connection between a sick boy and his mother.
they have been clearly in a battle against one another – they either spar with one another – Kevin always taunting her – or they are silent. More, we know, in a refusal to speak than in a lack of things to say.
– wounded and wary, yes, but it is not the guarded shield, the mask we’ve seen on her in every other moment with Kevin. She looks him full in the face; they have a real conversation, and Eva says very simply, “I want you to tell me why.” And Kevin, during this conversation, for the first time, looks unsure, himself emotionally vulnerable, his head shorn of its shock of black hair
swallows, and says, “I thought I knew once.” The two sit, in the wake of that answer, and look at one another. This ending is not about that answer - it is about Eva and Kevin looking at one another, about Eva truly looking at Kevin.
It is a volitional, honest action – not the false action that was the plastered smile she gave Kevin as a baby – but an action that is both her decision and her emotional present. It is an action that demonstrates to us her decision and her emotional ability to finally embrace Kevin as her own, embracing him for whoever he is and for whatever that embrace will continue to mean to her and to her life.