Review: We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)

Director: Lynne Ramsay

*****

Be under no misapprehension: Kevin Khatchadourian (Ezra Miller) is a horror. This twisted teenager spends his whole life doing only one thing: tormenting his mother Eva (Tilda Swinton) with his behaviour. As a toddler, he purposely and repeatedly soils himself. As a child, he undermines his mother with backchat and swearing. As a teenager, he kills nine people in a massacre at his high school. Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of We Need To Talk About Kevin, like its source novel, is pulling no punches.

Lionel Shriver’s novel was published in 2003, and was hailed as a brilliant depiction of a parent’s worst nightmare. The film loses none of that dread-filled potency in translation. Kevin’s actions are undoubtedly reprehensible, but what both book and film highlight is the possibility that Eva, however unwittingly, influenced Kevin’s actions. Early scenes show Eva enjoying herself on holiday and canoodling with her husband Franklin (John C. Reilly). A clip at La Tomatina festival in Spain sees Eva rolling in the tomato juice spilled all over the ground. The blood of Kevin’s victims will be a harder stain to remove. Co-writers (and spouses) Ramsay and Rory Kinnear eschew the letters Eva writes to the estranged Franklin that make up Shriver’s novel and focuses squarely on Eva, hopping back and forth between the aftermath of the shooting as she tries to pick up the pieces of her life and her life with Kevin, from his birth up to and during his incarceration. Her angular looks and fierce performances have earned Swinton a reputation for playing ice maidens (sometimes literally, as in The Chronicles Of Narnia), which make her perfect for the role of Eva. She was a traveller, an explorer, not destined to settle down. Yet, she had to do that which is expected and become a mother. Could the resentment she harboured have been passed to Kevin before his birth? From the moment he’s born, Kevin doesn’t stop crying around Eva, foreshadowing the misery he is to heap up on her for years to come. Swinton suffers beautifully; watching her go from grimacing at the crying infant Kevin to hiding in fear from a parent of one of the adolescent Kevin’s victims is remarkable. WNTTAK will speak to a lot of women who fear motherhood would rob them of their freedom. They’ll at least be able to reassure themselves any child they have won’t be as bad as Kevin (probably). Miller is both hateable and horrifying; you’d like to punch him, but you’d be afraid he’d bite you first. All the while, Reilly looks on in confused denial as Kevin offers Eva nothing but resentment, and she returns only with scorn. Each one seems to feed the others’ trauma in a warped symbiosis. The arrival of a little sister (Ashley Gerasimovich) and moving to a new house do nothing to change Kevin’s attitude; he’s hated, and that’s the way he likes it.

Ramsay’s film is stark not only in its subject matter, but in its colour palette. Blood red paint is spattered on Eva’s house, her car is a hideous yellow whilst Kevin’s room is a deeper shade of blue. Meanwhile, the hideously happy soundtrack and fractured timeline add to the angst as Eva’s world comes crashing down. We feel for her, but there is a sense of complicity; the lines between nature and nurture are blurred, and Eva’s going to get the blame. We Need To Talk About Kevin, like Eva, won’t hold your hand to guide you. It gives you these people and leaves you make your own mind up. During one prison visit, Eva asks Kevin, “Why?” He responds, “I used to think I knew. Now I’m not so sure.” Prepare to be challenged and refreshed.

We Need To Talk About Kevin? We’ll need a stiff drink afterwards.

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