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We Need To Talk About Kevin: A Gripping Vision of a Parent’s Nightmare

“The tie which links mother and child is of such pure and immaculate strength as to be never violated.” ~Washington Irving

There has been endless art and literature about the strength of the bond between mother and child. But what if, when your child is born, you don’t feel that bond? What if the child doesn’t feel it with you? When the child’s life takes a turn toward the dark, is it because the child was destined to be that way, or is it because the mother didn’t do her job? Lynne Ramsay’s startling new film, We Need To Talk About Kevin, chronicles a mother’s growing tension with her child and his increasingly psychopathic behavior, giving us a series of images, sounds, and memories that form any prospective mother’s worst nightmare. It’s an enthralling film: surreal, quiet, and shaking.

We jump back and forth in the life of Eva (Tilda Swinton). In the present, she has longer hair, lives in a broken down house by herself which has been defiled with red paint, and faces constant disapproval from everyone in the town. In the past, she has shorter hair, was married to Franklin (John C. Reilly), lived in a nice house, and had a child named Kevin (Rocky Duer as an infant, Jasper Newell as a 8 year old, and Ezra Miller as a teenager). From the first moment, Eva has felt cold toward Kevin, and the feeling is mutual: he cries as a baby whenever the mom has him, but not when the dad holds him. In one scene, she loses herself standing in a construction zone with loud jackhammering, relieved to have the constant sound of a baby crying drowned out. As the child gets older, she begins to fear that there’s something wrong with him, but, more frightening still, he acts warm and normal in front of Franklin. When Eva and Franklin have a second child, it gives Kevin even more resentment– and Eva even more to lose.

The opening image of the film has Eva taking part in Spain’s La Tomatina festival, in which she is joyfully engaged in a tomato fight, covered in red juices, in sheer bliss. We then cut to her house and car, which have been splashed in a violent way by red paint. Later on, Eva hides from a local woman, who we see in flashbacks is the mother of a victim of a school massacre that we begin to suspect the culprit of– and she ducks behind a row of tomato soup cans. The present-day Eva sleeps alone in a worn-out Led Zeppelin shirt that we saw Franklin wearing in happier times. Ramsay takes all imagery associated with Eva’s joy and love and turns it around on her. Repeated images flash before our eyes: food getting crushed under Kevin’s finger, a curtain blowing in the wind. On Halloween, we see children in masks running up to the car and unknowingly terrorizing Eva. The dialogue is economic, as the visuals tell us most of what we need to know about Eva, Kevin, and their relationship.

The performances across the board are stellar and brave. Ezra Miller borders at times on the “bad seed” stereotype, sneering and malevolent, but we’re seeing him through the eyes of Eva for nearly the entire film. The younger manifestations of Kevin are even more exceptional. In one memorable scene, Eva is rolling a ball with infant Kevin. She rolls the ball to him… and he lets it hit his chest, glaring at her. She picks the ball up, and rolls it again… yet another glare. She gets frustrated, and out of desperation tries one more time… and he catches it. Her spirits brighten and she praises him, running excitedly to get the ball to roll it again, now that he’s figured it out. She rolls it again… and he lets it hit his chest, glaring at her. We feel Eva’s paranoia that this infant is knowingly psychologically tormenting her. John C. Reilly is perfect as the dad who adopts the “let boys be boys” mentality, and his horror as Eva begins to fear the son is a great counterweight to Swinton’s performance. Swinton has been one of the most interesting and daring actresses of her generation for a while now, and this is one of her best performances to date. Watch her eyes when she tells her infant child in frustration that she’s trapped now because of him.

Ramsay doesn’t give us an answer regarding who to blame for Kevin’s violence. I’m sure some will think Eva wasn’t warm enough to Kevin from an early age, and Kevin grew up seeing in his mother’s eyes that she hated him. I’m sure some will think Eva had no control over Kevin, that he was going to be evil from the second he emerged from the womb. I’m sure some will think the lack of love between Eva and Kevin hurt his ability to develop normally… but there seems to be a deeper understanding between Eva and Kevin than anyone else. Kevin gets sick at one point as a child, and immediately looks to his mother for comfort. When he gets better, he acts despicably towards her again– it’s as if the illness required him to be fully honest and drop his resentful behavior. At film’s end, the final scene we see between Eva and Kevin is at once nihilistic and heartbreaking. Families are closer in real life, I suspect, to the one in We Need To Talk About Kevin than in any of the endless dishonest warm comedies about how wacky parents and siblings behave. The bond between Eva and Kevin is far from warm and cuddly, and there’s no banter, but it’s honest and reflects a reality in the strained relationships of family members on differing wavelengths. It may be a nightmare for expecting parents, but We Need To Talk About Kevin is a dream come true for those looking for a great film.

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~ by russellhainline on December 20, 2011.

One Response to “We Need To Talk About Kevin: A Gripping Vision of a Parent’s Nightmare”

  1. […] Alberto Iglesias, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy 6. Steven Price, Attack the Block 5. Jonny Greenwood, We Need To Talk About Kevin 4. Patrick Doyle, Rise of the Planet of the Apes 3. Howard Shore, Hugo 2. John Williams, War Horse […]

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