Thursday, February 16, 2012

Movie Review: We Need To Talk About Kevin

Tilda Swinton
We Need to Talk about Kevin (2011)
Directed By: Lynne Ramsay
Starring: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly and Ezra Miller

It's every parent's worst nightmare -- having the antichrist for a child; the very definition of a bad seed.

However, We Need to Talk about Kevin is not a horror film, which makes it all the more horrifying because it's believable.

Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton) longs for her days as a travel writer, breathing in the sites and sounds from exotic locales around the world. Instead she's the wife of a simpering, eager-to-please photographer (John C. Reilly) and mother to adorable little Celia (Ashley Gerasimovich) -- and 16-year-old terror, Kevin (Ezra Miller). It's not the life she desired, as she resentfully tells her toddler son in a flashback. From the moment of his birth, Eva and Kevin were enemies -- his every action, his every word, meant to spite his mother. After years of glaring at one another from across the room, everything comes crashing down -- with Kevin winding up in prison for a crime that is only slowly revealed to the audience.

After a nine year absence from behind the camera, Scottish director Lynne Ramsay expertly weaves together a narrative that hops around in time, yet manages to keep a sustained sense of suspense and dread. Although it can be cooly detached from emotion at certain points, it's a gripping family drama that will leave you feeling unsettled from start to finish. Based on the 2003 Lionel Shriver novel, the narrative is told entirely from Eva's point of view -- just how big a role did Eva play in moulding the young man that Kevin became? One thing that is clear is that, more often than not, she appears to regret his very existence. Although some of the films' motifs can be a little heavy-handed (the oversaturation of the colour red, as an example), We Need to Talk About Kevin is teeming with arresting visuals that, in their own way, propel the plot forward.

As Eva, Swinton is a revelation (and was robbed of an Oscar nomination). Not exactly the most nurturing of mothers, Eva's inner conflict is revealed in jagged fragments, in scenes both past and present. She's hard to read, much like her son. However, Swinton has the uncanny ability to build complex characters -- her Eva is both vacant and heartbreakingly tormented over her fear of her own child. She wavers on her feelings towards Kevin -- does she really loathe him or is there some love that can be salvaged from the wreck? Swinton draws you in, regardless of your feelings towards her actions. It's a powerful, subtle performance.

Ezra Miller
As Kevin, Miller is so good in the role, he'll make you rethink having children of your own. He vividly captures every small nuance of the character -- from his unblinking, hardened gaze to his sudden bursts of violence. We know so little about Kevin -- only what his mother knows, which is next to nothing.

Often clad in tiny t-shirts with cartoon characters across the front, Miller is a chilling man-child -- an impassive cipher that Eva circles around wearily, as though waiting for a bomb to go off.

The connection (if it can be called that) between Eva and Kevin is so intense that, more often than not, their interactions need little or no words.

When asked why he did what he did -- why he felt the need to commit acts of senseless violence -- Kevin responds: "I used to think I knew. Now I'm not so sure." 

As in real life, there are no answers. Like many other films on the same subject matter, it evades the "why?" to focus on how and when it came to a breaking point. One thing is for certain: they should have talked about Kevin.



  1. Good review, though this movie isn't my cup of tea.

    1. Have you seen it yet or do you not have any interest in it? I didn't think I'd like it either (the trailer didn't really sell me) but I'm glad I saw it.

  2. This film is so disturbing, chilling, and at times, very hard to watch but it's terribly tense with a near-perfect performance from Swinton, who I usually don't like but here she's absolutely amazing and definitely deserves that Oscar nomination. Great review.

    1. Thanks!

      What is it about Swinton that you don't normally like? I haven't seen her in much, but I usually find her wonderful. And, agreed, incredibly intense film.

  3. Great review, Laura! This is my favourite film of 2011 so far. It is visually stunning although, you're right, the use of red can be a litte overwhelming at times. It still is a visually as well as emotionally stunning film. It makes me feel so uncomfortable while watching, yet raises so many interesting, disturbing questions. I love the it is told entirely from a female perspective.

    Tilda Swinton is marvellous as Eva. I rooted for her at the Globes and can't believe she isn't even nominated at the Oscars. Definitely robbed!

    1. The film definitely looked fantastic. I just thought the colour red was constantly hitting us over the head. But, other than that, I thought the visuals really added a lot to the film. Little things, like a curtain blowing in the wind or the sound of the sprinkler system outside. Creepy.

      I love that none of the questions were answered, though. In life they rarely are. I especially loved Kevin's last line about how he doesn't know why he did it.

      Totally robbed. It was a good year for female performances and to leave out one of the best is bizarre.

    2. You're right. Ramsay often hints at situations that could have contributed to the formation of Kevin's character but also confronts us with the inexplicable. Was Eva really a bad mother when her daughter turned out perfectly 'normal'? Was Kevin born 'evil' or did he sense Eva's detachment?

      I love how this film is not afraid of exploring the downside of parenthood or especially motherhood, how it doesn't sugar-coat it but faces genuine aspects of it instead, like Eva's urge to be an individual and not only a caring nurturer, cleverly avoiding common, stereotypical depictions of motherhood.