Director: Lynne Ramsey
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, John C. Reilly
Release Date: October 21st
There comes a point midway through Lynne Ramsey’s We Need to Talk About Kevin in which Kevin, the impenetrable teenager at the film’s centre, freely reveals his motivations for a series of disturbing actions. It’s a particularly confusing scene, one completely at odds with the rest of the film, and one that puts a subtextual and narrative burden on the performances of its lead actors, largely refusing to hold the viewer’s hand. However, such a jarring shift in tone serves to highlight what a revelation the rest of Kevin is.
Told from the perspective of Kevin’s mother, Eva (played to devastating effect by Tilda Swinton), the film is set predominantly in the first eighteen years of Kevin’s life, portraying the mental warfare that he inflicts on her. As a baby, he screams so incessantly that while out pushing him in his pram one day, Eva stops by some road works for an extended amount of time – the pneumatic drill is comparatively soothing. He’s so unremitting in his campaign against his mother’s happiness that one should wonder if he was simply born evil. It’s a question that plagues Eva as she’s slowly worn down by Kevin, terrified by his potential and isolated from a husband who is oblivious to the threat he poses.
Kevin plays out a battle of wits and wills between the sociopath and his beleaguered mother. Swinton and Miller (who plays Kevin as a teenager) do most of the heavy lifting, but there’s a lot else to admire. Darting between Eva’s life before and after a life-changing event, the film’s fractured chronology proves an enlightening narrative device, helping to colour one’s perceptions of these characters, whilst allowing the film to remain tonally menacing as the gaps are slowly filled in. The sound editing and cinematography are also superb; splendidly aiding Swinton in bringing the character of Eva to life and providing visual epithets that stick with the viewer and change in significance as the film progresses.
Though it expertly builds to a shocking climax, it becomes clear that the true horror of We Need to Talk About Kevin lies in the anthology of events that precede it – it’s those telltale signs that haunt Eva as she attempts to rebuild her life. It’s an unsettling journey the viewer must take in watching this film. As horrific as it is impressive, We Need to Talk About Kevin is one of the year’s stand-out pictures.
In a Nutshell: A masterful film and a frightening portrayal of motherhood. Don’t have kids.