We Need To Talk About Kevin is the first film from director Lynne Ramsay in seven years, and as such it would seem Ramsay feels she must make up for lost time. Tilda Swinton stars as Eva, mother of Kevin, alongside John C. Reilly as her husband, and Franklin and Ezra Miller as the eponymous Kevin. All of the actors deliver superb performances; Swinton doesn’t pull any punches as a mother totally removed from her son, whereas Reilly creates a surprisingly good portrayal of her stoic husband. Moreover, Miller and the ensemble of young actors brilliantly capture Kevin’s sadistic menace. In terms of plot, there’s little that can be said without ruining the allure of this film; both are so closely woven together they hold your attention with an anxious curiosity.
The film focuses on Eva’s character and her struggles with Kevin as he grows up and becomes progressively menacing. Despite the fact that Kevin is by far the more cinematic character, he is too deplorable for the audience to put up with for too long; if this film did focus on him it would be a profound exercise in alienation. Instead, telling the narrative from Eva’s perspective creates a deep level of identification as she struggles to break through Kevin’s cold indifference. This film employs a non-linear narrative to present the audience with the effect of certain event before said events themselves unfold; as such the film’s denouement is not all that shocking, but has a cathartic weight nonetheless.
Above all, Swinton captures Eva’s attempt to understand what drives Kevin. When asked why he does what he does, what the point of it all is, he merely replies: “There is no point, that’s the point”. While this may be a pop-Nihilist take on life, Kevin hasn’t so much studied Beyond Good & Evil as he has read the blurb, but he still acts as a strong metaphor for teenage apathy. Many mothers in the audience will wince at the uncomfortably realistic struggle of Eva’s character to understand her son’s mounting menace.
The film will leave you feeling hollowed out and unrelentingly sympathetic for Eva’s position and oddly, as the film draws to a close, Kevin’s as well. There is some redemption here, but ultimately Kevin is damaged goods in the eyes of the audience and Eva. The film is startlingly powerful and definitely succeeds where many awards-orientated films of late have failed in that it is still able to add humanity to its artistic approach. Swinton should receive at least a few nods come Oscar season as should Miller and Ramsay, although it would be overly optimistic to describe this film as an awards sweeper. Nonetheless, this is a film I highly recommend and urge you to see as soon as possible; the understated simplicity is as rewarding as it is captivating. Witness this film and join the mounting numbers of people attempting to understand the sadistic mind of Kevin.
Check out Tom’s London Film Festival blog for an entirely different take on this film.