We Need To Talk About Kevin
Based on the 2003 Lionel Shriver novel, "We Need to Talk About Kevin" is a testament to the inviolability of the wealthy white woman/nanny bond, provocatively arguing that when the high and mighty attempt to raise their own children, bad stuff happens. Well, okay, maybe this is not the filmmakers’ intended thesis. But writer/director Lynne Ramsay certainly does want to stir some transgressive thoughts about motherhood, a condition that changes everything about a woman’s existence, often -- and this is a tough truth for some people to accept -- not for the better.
During the movie’s gripping first thirty minutes or so, the visually adept Ramsay ("Ratcatcher," "Morvern Callar") minimizes the dialogue, choosing instead to build a sense of foreboding through cinematographer Seamus McGarvey’s hypnotic images and editor Joe Bini’s ingenious cuts. Their combined efforts capture and shape an emotionally raw performance by Tilda Swinton, whose scrubbed and haunted visage is a fitting reflection of the Greek tragedy her character Eva’s life has become.
As the movie shifts back and forth in time, the audience must reconstruct this life from the remnants of a fractured psyche, which has been shattered by the fairly commonplace scenario of an independent, accomplished, and financially well-off working woman choosing to sacrifice freedom for family. Not commonplace, however, is the little bundle of misery -- the eponymous Kevin -- that issues forth from Eva’s womb, his eyes, over time, hardening into a flinty glare filled with inexplicable malice for the woman who bore him. As Kevin ages into adolescence, his hatred grows to include the surrounding community, eventually exploding in the type of school ground violence that, in addition to causing unimaginable anguish, also monopolizes newspaper headlines, fuels endless hours of TV-talking-head babble, and puts public educators and politicians on the rhetorical defensive.
At least early on, the movie itself seems to have loftier aspirations than just knee-jerk shock and anger. Told from Eva’s tormented perspective, with an array of unflinching close-ups, it forces us to contemplate her pain, both in the aftermath of Kevin’s bloody rampage and, before this vicious spectacle, as she slowly realizes that he might be capable of it. That Eva has an unreliable memory, perhaps perceiving judgment from strangers that is solely within her own mind, only adds to the poignancy of her lonely and guilt-ridden face. For example, when a woman, presumably the mother of one of her son’s victims, sucker-punches Eva in a strip mall parking lot, a suspicion forms almost immediately that this retributive act is more wish fulfillment than reality. Delving even deeper into Eva’s scarred conscience holds the promise of being a fascinating psychological and cinematic journey.
Regrettably, though, the more Ramsay reveals about Kevin, the more conventional, and disappointing, the movie becomes. Played from birth until near adulthood by three affectless young actors and a screaming baby (Rock Duer, Jasper Newell, Ezra Miller, and an uncredited newborn), Kevin never is anything other than diabolically unreal, undercutting the audience’s ability to comprehend Eva’s inner turmoil. After all, it is impossible to fault yourself too much if you have been cursed with bringing up the Antichrist. As the teenage version of Kevin, Miller especially is doing his best Damien impression, making it seem as if Eva could most productively address her parental agony by first checking under a forelock for the telltale triple-six birthmark, before proceeding to track down the seven daggers of Megiddo. Put all the Kevins together, and he is a ho-hum movie monster, committing evil for evil’s sake.
Attempting to still achieve a veneer of social relevancy, Ramsay and co-writer Rory Kinnear also offer up a mélange of non-Satanic explanations for Kevin’s decidedly Satanic behavior: violent video games; a disturbingly difficult potty training; a poor diet including blood-red jelly sandwiches; youthful isolation; not enough love from mom; or perhaps a tad too much blind love from dad. On this last count, adhering to true and inexplicable horror movie logic, Kevin’s blithely permissive father Franklin (John C. Reilly) thick-headedly gives his son a professional archery set as a present, refusing to heed Eva’s protests or the fate of a luckless pet gerbil, belonging to his other child Celia (Ashley Gerasimovich), which ends up taking a grisly ride down the garbage disposal. The great trap of "We Need to Talk About Kevin" is devoting too many brain cells to Ramsay’s nature-versus-nurture intimations; ultimately, they are nothing more than intellectual posturing, helping Ramsey, along with her own enviable aesthetic cleverness and Swinton’s prodigious acting talents, to disguise an exploitative B-movie as something far more serious.
We Need to Talk About Kevin
Eva :: Tilda Swinton
Franklin :: John C. Reilly
Kevin (Teenager) :: Ezra Miller
Kevin (6-8 Years) :: Jasper Newell
Kevin (Toddler) :: Rocky Duer
Celia :: Ashley Gerasimovich
Wanda :: Siobhan Fallon Hogan
Colin :: Alex Manette
Executive Producer, Lynne Ramsay; Screenwriter, Rory Kinnear; Producer, Luc Roeg; Producer, Jennifer Fox; Producer, Robert Salerno; Executive Producer, Steven Soderbergh; Executive Producer, Christine Langan; Executive Producer, Paula Jalfon; Executive Producer, Christopher Figg; Executive Producer, Robert Whitehouse; Executive Producer, Michael Robinson; Executive Producer, Andrew Orr; Executive Producer, Norman Merry; Executive Producer, Lisa Lambert; Executive Producer, Tilda Swinton; Cinematographer, Seamus McGarvey; Film Editor, Joe Bini; Original Music, Jonny Greenwood; Production Design, Judy Becker; Art Director, Charlie Kulsziski; Set Decoration, Heather Loeffler; Costume Designer, Catherine George; Casting, Billy Hopkins.