We Need To Talk About Kevin
Starring: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly
Directed by: Lynne Ramsay
4.5 out of 5
We Need to Talk About Kevin never declares itself safe.
Lynne Ramsay’s disturbing film, based on the novel by Lionel Shriver, is a ferocious adaptation that scratches and spits, breaking through its own words with sound and fury.
Its soul, and suburban hell, is the ever-widening schism of a mother and son at war, where the camera forces us so close we retaliate with a scream or an instinct to duck.
It’s challenging, but not without its brilliance. The movie opens with an overhead shot of bodies and bedlam in a sea of red. Beginning in a wash of provocative crimson, the celebratory bath of tomato juice recounts the films lead, Eva (fearlessly played by Tilda Swinton), as we gaze onto her surreal memory of Spain’s La Tomatina festival.
From there, the picture embraces an unconventional streak, fashioning episodic situations where humour is black, terror is real and life’s realities are a succession of small deaths. There’s no question that the film is expertly crafted and haunting. Just don’t call it wholly digestible.
Ramsay’s choice of altering the film’s chronological order may throw some for a loop, but in lieu of a straightforward narrative, the film affords greater contrast and power.
Years having past, we encounter a depleted Eva rebuilding her life in the wake of a heinous tragedy involving her son. Once an esteemed travel writer, she postponed life to marry the affably goofy Franklin (John C. Reilly), and to give birth to their first child, Kevin (equally creepy Jasper Newell and Ezra Miller).
Through Eva, we confront shards of Kevin’s upbringing, every moment infected with uneasiness. The merciless child grows into a darkly vacant teenager who effortlessly manipulates the love of his father and sister (Ashley Gerasimovich). Eva never buys it.
Ramsay’s interpretation builds against the pair’s incurable bond – her maternal intuition and continental desires with his violent, sociopathic impulses.
There are moments when Kevin’s eyes convey a disquieting abyss, frightfully employed as the film bravely goes all the way in depicting the horrors of a high school massacre. For the most part, however, the film wisely resists genre slumming, accepting violence without bleeding it. The abstract nature of Ramsay’s direction is astonishingly bold, and welcomed from a woman who’s been absent for eight years.
Saturated in red, the colour pervades the film’s look at every turn. Spattered across walls and windows, strawberry jam oozes, red ink soaks – Eva’s life literally becomes stained as she copes amidst a haze of pills and town hatred.
If anything, the film should be viewed as a series of parts. Surely, there are images here I will never forget.
There’s the undeniable absurdity (and the sound) of Kevin savoring a white, rounded lychee fruit as his parents grieve over the loss of their daughter’s eye. Or the eerie Halloween sequence that finds Eva driving down a residential street of costumed ghouls, darkly photographed and bizarrely accompanied by Buddy Holly’s song “Everyday.”
Some may balk at the individuality of a film like We Need To Talk About Kevin. What is its purpose? Frankly, I feel it hits America where it dare not to look – commenting on its banal culture, its moral disengagement, and the unfathomable question afflicting every parents worst nightmare: Is it possible to hate your child?