There are moments in We Need To Talk About Kevin that suggest the movie is a dark mirror image to this summer’s divisive art film Tree of Life. Both films mix stunning, sometimes abstract imagery with a non-linear story exploring a mother’s love. While Tree of Life was an ethereal film, We Need To Talk About Kevin is dirty, grimy and a whole lot less likely to be divisive. We Need To Talk About Kevin is good. It’s damn good.
Lynne Ramsay co-wrote and directed the adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel of the same name. In both the book and film, the life of a playground murderer is explored through flashbacks as seen from the perspective of Eva, the murderer’s mother.
Tilda Swinton stars as Eva, an emotionally drained woman who has never been able to build a relationship with her sociopathic son Kevin. Her son’s rejection of Eva — present since the child was an infant — builds a deep resentment inside the woman and psychologically damages her and fractures her relationship with her husband Franklin, played by John C. Reily.
There have been many films and novels featuring creepy kids. There’s something about a pint-sized human with murder in his eyes that will unsettle even the most steadfast of souls. Kevin (as played by Jasper Newell, Rocky Duer and Ezra Miller during various stages of his life) is a textbook example of a sociopath. Precocious in a way that prompts him to mess with his mother’s head as opposed to saying cute things like the kids in sitcoms, Kevin seemingly finds the only joy in his life from making his mother’s life as miserable as possible. Seemingly being the operative word, though. As testament to the talent of the young actors who portray Kevin, the audience is never quite given a complete glimpse into the mind and thoughts of the child. There are fleeting moments where the viewer is given the impression of empathy with the child but those moments are few and far between. Instead, the audience often finds itself projecting Eva’s own fears and paranoia onto the child — and there is much paranoia to go around.
Eva is the only one in the family that can spot Kevin’s warped behavior. She doubts the safety of her youngest daughter in his company and suspects her son’s stalled potty training is more out of deliberate choice than any form of learning disability. This constant friction between Eva and her son does not go unnoticed by Franklin. Franklin has no problems with Kevin — in fact, their relationship is rock solid more than likely out of a desire for Kevin to further frustrate his mother.
We Need to Talk About Kevin alternates between Kevin’s youth and a dark future set after he has finally revealed his murderous inner soul to the world in an act of school violence. This non-linear approach to the film allows Tilda Swinton to give one of the best performances of her already prestigious career. Audiences see the full progression of Eva from a proud, if frustrated, new mother to a beaten down, member of the walking dead — having nothing left in her life but anger, frustration and questions.
Ezra Miller plays Kevin during his teen years. This opportunity to play Kevin as a young adult gives Miller the chance to portray the evil soul as a sadistic, manipulative Hannibal Lecter in skinny jeans. His pathos finally getting a chance to peak out from behind his dark hair and blacker eyes, the audience is at last able to recognize that Eva is not simply an unreliable witness and that there is truly something dark at work behind Kevin’s soul.
We Need To Talk About Kevin is a great film that features a hefty supply of powerful performances. It’s a dark film but one told exceptionally well. There is darkness out there in the world and We Need To Talk About Kevin is not afraid to explore those shadowed passageways of the human soul.
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Notable Cast: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reily and Ezra Miller
Writer: Lynne Ramsay and Rory Stewart Kinnear from the novel of the same name by Lionel Shriver