We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) (15)
Running Time: 112 mins
Reviewed by: David Gillespie – HCF Official Artist
Lynn Ramsay’s (Ratcatcher) first feature in nine years explores the source of evil and how a mother copes when that source is evident in her own son. It questions whether evil is inherited, learned or if there are instances of such as thing as a ‘bad egg’. We need to Talk About Kevin seems to lean towards the latter and asks, how would you deal with creating a monster? Would you blame yourself, ignore the situation or would you do everything in your power to change this behaviour? Focussing on Lionel Shriver’s chilling 2003 novel and jumping between various time frames before and after a heinous crime undertaken by the titular character, Ramsay has created 2011’s most challenging, outstanding and devastating film.
The story follows Eva (a mesmerizing Tilda Swinton) and her relationship with her demonic son, Kevin (Ezra Miller- 15 yr old, Jasper Newell – 8yr old, Rocky Duer – 2 yr old). From his birth, Eva is unable to create a loving bond with her boy. He responds to the comfort of his caring father, Franklin (the ever reliable, John c. Riley) with an almost artificial affection to spite his mother. Initially, she doubts herself and her interactions with her child, but it soon becomes apparent that Kevin is not quite right. He intentionally ruins his mother’s newly decorated study, soils himself and bed on a repeated basis and leers at those around him. Unfortunately Eva’s husband does not share her concerns and dismisses the behaviour as a boy thing. Why would he question him when his son offers him such affection? When a younger sister, Lucy (Ursula Parker) arrives, things go from bad to worse. Kevin is left with the responsibility of looking after his sister for a short time and Lucy suffers a disfiguring accident. Franklin blames his wife but Eva is convinced that the blame lies with their son. It is only a matter of time before tragedy is to occur once more but no one is ready for the scale of pain that is to ensue.
Ramsay’s long awaited project is as close to perfection as you can get. Rather than reveal the repellent cruelty of Kevin’s sadistic acts, much of the violence is suggested with imagery and metaphors to greater effect. Rich tones of deep red are on display throughout the project from the overipe tomatoes of a latin festival, an overflowing strawberry jam sandwich smeared on a sterile surface, the red paint splattered walls of Eva’s vandalised house and a supermarket aisle dominated by cans of tomato soup.
This is by no means a fast moving movie, with minimal dialogue but there is so much for the moviegoer to savour onscreen. I was gripped from start to finish. Startling camera angles and blurred images are blended magestically with Johnny Greenwood’s (Radiohead) haunting but beautiful score. This is a huge step up from his work in There Will be Blood.
Rather than being spoon fed by the director, the audience are left to make their own minds up as to the depths and potential roots of Kevin’s depravity before it all begins to become clear. Rarely has evil been portrayed to such devastating effect. Kevin’s sunken, black eyes reflect hate and a disdain for all life. The three young actors (Miller, Newell and Duer) that portray the character have to take great credit for their performances. Not one of them slips up or lets the side down. There is even a heartfelt scene where it is suggested that Kevin’s relationship with his mother is the only real link he has to humanity. He becomes sick with a high fever. Eva comforts her son and he cuddles in and apologises for being sick on the floor. The joy in the mother’s eyes that she might have finally broken through is heartbreaking. When she visits him in the morning to monitor his progress it becomes crystal clear that he has recovered and is back to his true horrible self.
Tilda Swinton proves once again that she is one of the greatest actresses of our time. Capable of looking truly stunning one minute and totally plain the other, she is the perfect choice for a challenging and difficult role. Her quiet and restrained performance of a woman coping with multiple levels of pain, worthlessness, failure and hate is truly astonishing. There are lingering shots of the terror and hurt in Eva’s eyes after the events and consequences of her son’s crime. A crime that she will carry the burden for in a neighbourhood coming to terms with incredible loss, frustration and anger. There is only one person that they can release this rage towards and that is Eva. But who does she reach out for to contain her loss, shame and pain? Her neighbours’ concensus is, ‘who cares’.
There is nothing that can really be faulted with the supporting cast. Perhaps there could have been a little more screen time and investigation into Riley’s character, Franklin. Is there a reason for the father’s innability to recognise the problems and sinister behaviour of his son. Is he ignoring the signs on purpose?
The tone is understandably bleak yet Ramsay wisely infuses some moments of comedy that lighten the mood. Perhaps the greatest of these is a chance meeting between Eva and a couple of interfering Jehovah’s Witnesses that have certainly met their match. There is also a truly uncomfortable but blackly hilarious mother/ son social outing which naturally does not go to plan.
In conclusion, We Need to Talk About Kevin is a wonderful piece of cinema. Perfectly made and acted, this is very likely to sweep up at the Oscars come 2012. Tilda Swinton must be a dead cert for the Best Actress award and Lynn Ramsay a must for the Best Director. If they don’t then I’ll eat my hat. This is a movie that will leave you thinking and licking your mental wounds long after you leave the cinema hall.