We Need to Talk About Kevin
Directed by Lynne Ramsay. Starring Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, John C. Reilly, Jasper Newell, Rock Duer, Ashley Gerasimovich, Siobhan Fallon. Written by Ramsay and Rory Kinnear, from the novel by Lionel Shriver.
Note: this week’s big releases are The Hunger Games (showtimes | IMDb), based on the bestselling novel by Suzanne Collins, and Bel Ami (showtimes | IMDb), a romance starring Robert Pattinson and Uma Thurman. Unfortunately, I’m currently in the US, where neither has yet been released – check back next week for reviews.
This coming week also sees Febio Fest, Prague’s largest film festival, which takes place at CineStar Anděl and other venues. Tickets are only 89 CZK; for a full schedule and other info, see the festival website. Opening this week at Febio Fest and other selected cinemas in the Czech Republic is Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, which I take a look at below.
We Need to Talk About Kevin, based on the novel by Lionel Shriver, is a bold and challenging film that deals with a topic that many try to understand, but few (if any) actually do. In the aftermath of a tragedy, everyone is searching for answers, but rarely are they actually found.
Kevin’s narrative jumps around from the present to various moments in the past, not always in chronological order; fleeting memories, perhaps, of the lead character, Eva Khatchadourian, played by Tilda Swinton. As the film cuts back and forth, we often don’t immediately know where we are; the physical appearance of the characters helps to clue us in.
In the present, we gather some terrible event has occurred: Eva is alone, depressed, seeking new employment, and even shunned by the community; when her house is vandalized, she doesn’t call the police, she just begins scrubbing away.
Through fragments of the past, we slowly begin to put her life together. She was (is?) married to Franklin (John C. Reilly). She had a son, Kevin (played at different ages by Ezra Miller, Jasper Newell, and Rock Duer), and a young daughter, Celia (Ashley Gerasimovich). Her life ambitions were put on hold as she raised the family.
Kevin has…issues. While his relationship with his father seems healthy and loving, the relationship with his mother is anything but. She sees him as…evil; even from a very young age, perhaps stemming from her reluctance to become a mother. But is she right, or does her perception of Kevin color who he becomes?
Is Kevin a monster – or is he a product of his upbringing? We Need to Talk About Kevin is steadfastly ambiguous in regards to these two options, but one thing is very clear: Kevin is bad.
My only reservation with the film is its treatment of the title character; he is a monster, the only question is how did heget that way. He’s simultaneously, presented as the antichrist, whose actions seem dictated by pure evil, and also a poorly-raised son, whose actions are explained as the product of his upbringing. Both sides feel over-explained, in a one-or-the-other scenario; some more shades of grey would have been appreciated.
But then again, this is a portrait of Kevin as seen through his mother’s eyes: she, of course, sees it only these two ways, trying to come to come to terms with Kevin’s actions while placing a great deal of blame on herself.
Swinton’s performance has been widely acclaimed, and the actress was expected to garner an Academy Award nomination; that didn’t happen, which is a shame, because Swinton delivers a powerful, emotionally jarring performance that is much more effective than the other Best Actress nominees (and especially the eventual winner, Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady).
Swinton is front and center throughout much of the film, and features in almost every shot. The supporting cast has much less screen time, though Reilly is excellent in a rare (at this stage in his career) dramatic role, and Miller, as the teenage Kevin, is profoundly disturbing, especially in a climactic sequence with Swinton.
Director Ramsay previously made the striking films Ratcatcher and Morvern Callar; her films have a kind of dreamlike quality that harshly contrasts with reality. We Need to Talk About Kevin is a difficult, provocative film that you aren’t likely to soon forget – it’s tough but essential viewing for those with young children.