WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN
Directed by: Lynne Ramsay
Written by: Lynne Ramsay & Rory Kinnear (screenplay) and Lionel Shriver (novel)
Starring: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller, Siobhan Fallon, Ashley Gerasimovich, Rock Duer and Jasper Newell
So, we need to talk about WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN. The film made waves overseas when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year due to its controversial subject matter. While it never picked up a distributor during its time at the fest, it did garner a lot of buzz for Tilda Swinton’s performance as a grief stricken mother. Since then, it has been bought and will be distributed in the States. Soon, you too can talk about that insolent, insubordinate, psychopathic asshole Kevin. The film is incredibly infuriating and frightening, but not in a realistic way.
In WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN, after her teenage son Kevin (Ezra Miller) goes on a Columbine like killing spree, Eva (Swinton) is left to wander through life in a drug-induced, zombie-like haze. She’s seeking peace though none is afforded to her. Due to a lack of funds, she was not able to move out of the town the horrific tragedy occurred in. Her self-abnegation is all-encompassing. Her guilt makes her reluctant to feel she’s allowed to express anger or emotion. The film flashes back and forward in time and in her memories to answer the questions of where did it all go wrong, what could she have done better, and how does she proceed now.
There are loads of problems at play here. The main problem is the assumption that the audience is sympathetic to Eva. The trouble is, we aren’t. While Swinton gives her all in the performance, her character is so unlikeable that she never has you on her side. From the get go, Eva is a reluctant mother who never lovingly bonds with her baby, and tells her son that he’s the cause of her derailed life plans. It’s no wonder Kevin turns out to be a rage-filled, hateful child. That’s not to say she gets what she deserves, but come on. Where’s the discipline, structure and love? How Eva’s second child Celia managed to turn out all sunshine and cuteness is beyond me. Also, knowing that her son displays psychotic tendencies, shouldn’t she have enrolled him in therapy?! And his behavior only worsens with age. Once Celia and Mr. Snuffles (the gerbil) enter the picture, the audience is just waiting for both to be snuffed out.
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN seems to be a nasty, accusatory comment on Americans and our way of child rearing. That our values and ideals are hollow and narcissistic and that we are raising a nation full of coddled mass murderers. Overt and heavy handed symbolism is around every corner. At the beginning of the story, red paint is splattered on the house by the town’s angry citizens. Eva spends the rest of the film cleaning it off her house (i.e. cleaning up Kevin’s mess). After the family moves into a mansion like home in the suburbs, Eva makes a room all to herself that Kevin destroys with a paint gun. It’s like he’s destroying her whole world all over again, literally! Shots linger too long –Kevin eating a lychee fruit, Eva staring at a wall while awaiting a job interview, the living room curtain blowing in the night breeze – which adds to the heightened state of uncomfortability, but also leads to audience fatigue.
The film oscillates between pretentious art house fare and an interestingly structured drama. Audiences will find the film polarizing for so many different reasons – you will either love it or hate it. There’s really no middle ground when talking about KEVIN.
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN played AFI Fest on November 9 and 10. It opens on January 27.