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Tuesday, 13 January 2015

REVIEW - WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (2011)

Directed by: Lynne Ramsay
Written by: Lynne Ramsay, Rory Stewart Kinnear
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, John C. Reilly
Music by: Jonny Greenwood
Release date: 12 October 2011 (United Kingdom)


If you're a mother unsure about whether or not you want to have children, then congratulations. This movie is your outright worst nightmare. Based on a 2003 novel by Lionel Shriver, We Need to Talk About Kevin is simultaneously a psychological thriller and a horror story, that explores the less glamorous side of motherhood.

Eva Khatchadourian (played magnificently by Tilda Swinton) is a haggard zombie desperately trying to prevent her life from falling apart. She has become a meek and fearful woman, forced to take whatever lackluster job she can get as she's ignored and hated by almost everyone around her. Prior to all of this, her life was exactly how she wanted it to be, but a horrifying incident changed her life forever. The catalyst: her son, Kevin (Ezra Miller).


This is a complex piece heavy on symbolism - some of which is pretty excessive and in-your-face - but most of Lynne Ramsay's direction is subtle, and she demonstrates a penchant for incorporating strong motifs and foreshadowing while strictly following the rule of "show, not tell". From the very beginning there's a never-ending abundance of red symbolising Eva's unwavering guilt, and the audience is left to connect the dots themselves, as the whole movie is played in a non-linear order, like fractured segments of Eva's tormented mind. There's the life she wants, and then there's the life she has.

Kevin is played primarily by Ezra Miller, who is mesmerising in the role. While you might slightly hate yourself for taking a bit of a liking to Kevin due to his somewhat charismatic qualities and snarky remarks, he's a diabolical, sadistic, practically Satanic - albeit intelligent - little monster, but his dark side is only visible to Eva. Kevin's father, Franklin (John C. Reilly), thinks he's a little angel. At a younger age Kevin deliberately soils himself to watch his mother squirm, and shows signs of sociopathic behaviour. Throughout his entire life he devotes himself to making his mother's life as hellish and unbearable as he possibly can. But the character portrayals here are not as black-and-white as they seem.


She tries to be loving, but it is evident from the very beginning of her pregnancy that Eva is heavily unconnected to her child. She sits in a apathetic trance while every other woman proudly displays and raves about their new tots, and - free-spirited as ever - she tells a young Kevin that she was happy before he came along, and that instead of changing his diaper, she would much rather be living it up in France. While it's entirely possible that there is no reason why Kevin does what he does, Eva's troubles with Kevin could quite possibly be the result of her unwillingness to accept the responsibilities of maternity and her incompetence as a mother. She absorbs society's feelings towards her, and in her mind, she's more of a villain than Kevin is.

But that's not to say she's a straight-up felon. Far from it. She may not have any particularly desirable qualities, but you feel for her. She's restricted by the necessities of life, just the wrong person with the wrong child at the wrong time. Kevin on the other hand, is completely helpless. From birth he's had defective morals and, since his father sees him as heaven-sent and he has his mother wrapped around his little finger, he's never had any discipline. One of your biggest lingering questions while watching this movie may be why Kevin is how he is. That question is barely ever addressed until the very end. This movie treats its audience with just a bit more respect than most of its ilk, that would most likely incorporate a scene or two with a GP or a school therapist. But even when the source of his malfunction is addressed, it isn't in the conventional way. This movie explores the worst-case scenario of motherhood, a central theme that parenting can quite possibly be a one-way path to destruction. To be honest, when you really get into the meat of it, it's kind of depressing. One viewing could permanently wipe the smile off of a nine-year-old on Christmas morning (not that you should be letting any nine-year-olds watch this on Christmas in the first place). But the issues it addresses are real. It boldly tackles the uglier side of parenting, and the hidden horrors that it could potentially bear. It's bitter food for thought.


We Need to Talk About Kevin is not for the mainstream viewer, and I'm sure there are some out there who will find its audacious content offensive or distasteful. But this is a movie strictly for those who seek more from their moviegoing experiences than simple entertainment. It's not without its somewhat minor imperfections, but it's beautifully made: drenched in foreboding, impeccably paced, driven by two spellbinding central performances, and quite literally gripping from beginning to end. Just don't watch it with your kids.