Never before have mother and son been such strangers to each other as they are in this fractured drama of human misery. “We Need to Talk About Kevin” plays like an arty horror film set within a disconnected family torn apart by tragedy – both individual and collective.
Tilda Swinton plays Eva Khatchadourian, a former travel writer who, before waking up in a marriage she no longer wanted, with a family she more or less despised, used to love her life.
The narrative is fractured, going back and fourth in time at a pace that might seem alarming and hard to keep up with. On occasions, the only way the viewer can venture a guess on the chronology is by looking at the length of Eva's hair.
Then again, trying to reconstruct the narrative by putting all the pieces together would be redundant: this is Eva's story, as remembered by her and told through her eyes. It's the very smart trick director Lynne Ramsay came up with to replace the 1st person epistolary narrative from the original novel by Lionel Shriver.
However, the beginning is ominous: Eva is writhing in a sea of human bodies covered in the reddest of red fluids. It looks like blood but, as it turns out, it's just tomato juice: Eva is at the Tomatina festival in Valencia, Spain and she lets herself go with sinful abandon.
The red will prevail throughout the film, whether it's in Eva's dreams, the only place she can still find escape from the terrible maternal guilt weighing on her and the horrors of recent events, or in the paint that disgruntled neighbors constantly splash her house and car with.
She's unwanted, alone and, most importantly, fully aware of the evil she released into the world with the birth of her child.
It wasn't always like that, though.
Without even realizing it, Eva wakes up trapped in a life she doesn't want. Though present on camera in every scene, the viewer gets the distinct impression that she'd rather be anywhere else: another woman, another wife, another mother in another life.
In one particular scene, as she's staring at her solemn, impossible to love child, in one of her most honest outbursts, she tells him smiling, “Mommy was happy
before little Kevin came along. You know that? Now Mommy wakes up every morning and wishes she was in France
She can't remember how to love Franklin (John C. Reilly), doesn't know how to bond with her daughter Celia (Ashley Gerasimovich) and she definitely doesn't know what to do with Kevin, played by a trio of outstanding actors in different stages in life (Rock Duer, Jasper Newell and Ezra Miller).
There is a vague suggestion that Eva didn't want the child in the first place: the impression is definitely enforced throughout the film, even though it also becomes clear that, even if she were more willing to accept Kevin, he would still shut her out, punish her.
Kevin is the classic “bad seed” child, the film suggests, at least at first. He's a mother's worst nightmare, that of giving birth to the Devil – and Miller sure plays the part, especially in later scenes, which see him going on a killing spree at his high school.
The supreme irony of the film is that, despite the title, no one really ever talks about Kevin: Eva accuses and Franklin goes on the defensive. He can't see the pure evil in his soul because, towards him, “Kev” displays feigned affection, which he makes sure is thrown back in Eva's face as one of the most horrible insults for a mother.
“We Need to Talk About Kevin” takes a cold, calculated look at the depths of human misery and questions the possibility of giving birth to a child without a soul. It's Eva's story, as she tries to navigate the muddy waters of her life while looking for answers.
She finds none – and the viewer is offered none upon the final credits.
Built brick by brick, scene by scene in pyramidal fashion – with the big reveal of Kevin's final act of revenge on his mother being its top – the film cuts to the bone with surgical precision.
Ramsay is an artist of the image and, as if that wasn't enough to make “Kevin” a very uncomfortable and terribly fascinating experience, she also works with a superb cast and excellent source material.
“We Need to Talk About a Kevin” is a must-see, but definitely not a film that will be embraced by many.
It runs 112 minutes and is rated R for disturbing violence and behavior, and language. “Kevin” premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2011, is now playing in theaters in the US, and will arrive in Hong Kong on March 1, 2012. The Good
“We Need to Talk About Kevin” is an ambitious and superbly executed project that peers into the human soul, only to note it's absent. Calculated, cold, visually shocking and bone-chilling, the film plays out like any woman's (or man's) most terrible nightmare. There's really no higher recommendation
to give it. The Bad
A frustrated viewer might feel cheated that “We Need to Talk About Kevin” doesn't offer some sort of ultimate answer in the end. Doing so would assume it ever proposed to – which it didn't. The Truth
“We Need to Talk About Kevin” is a masterpiece of the kind that comes once in many years. It will make viewers uncomfortable, but its aim was never to entertain or offer escape from the real world. If only for the superb performance of Swinton and Miller, it's a must-see.