WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN
DIRECTED BY LYNNE RAMSEY
Is Eva Khatchadourian paranoid, overly ambivalent, or just plain too close to the fire regarding her son Kevin? Is she too meek or just at a loss for how to parent him? Is she a tragic figure or totally unreliable and unsympathetic? Whatever you believe, she is laid the blame for Kevin because despite all the psychological warfare Kevin waged against her, he never laid a finger on her versus everybody else in his destructive path. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN deals with Eva’s perceptions and nightmares about Kevin that take form in big and small acts of evil.
Lynne Ramsey’s adaptation of the Lionel Shriver novel narrows the dirty deeds yet makes each act Kevin commits more frightening and effective. The film’s non-chronological order at first seems messy but the film’s build up to the final fifteen minutes makes everything that seemed too blurred in storytelling have more focus.
For a character portrayed by more than one actor, including an infant, each ‘Kevin’ is a nightmare. Ezra Miller as the eldest Kevin is a young man who believes he has it all figured out and knows exactly what he is doing, no longer just specific to pushing his mother’s buttons (something that both in the novel and on the screen showed at a young age, a boy aware of what he was doing to his mother), but about everything around him. There are flaws in his nihilism but his pretentiousness and sinister nature lethally undermine all logic.
Tilda Swinton plays Eva as a flawed woman who is almost in a horror movie where all the cards are stacked against her and her alone, a woman who truly believes her son is a monster from a very young age but nobody believes her. Kevin is, of course, a parent’s worst nightmare. But Swinton is not an outgoing, crazy, shrill counterpoint that we must root for against Miller’s diabolical psychopath. She plays a woman trying to connect, trying to maintain control, and later, trying to remain anonymous. The movie is from her perspective and the alienation she feels is palpable but also deceptive. Her interactions with Kevin, some of which are volatile, show flaws in her child rearing that are both obvious and complex. But could she have really raised this boy? Could she have saved him? Was Kevin born bad?
I love that Ramsey still leaves many of these questions open to interpretation, preserving Shriver’s novel. She stylizes the film to a certain extent with a soundtrack that is quite pronounced and post-modern and the close-ups she gives to every major character puts her actors on the spot. Miller’s malevolence may be seen as too hammy and try-hard compared to Swinton’s subtle brilliance but he is what shakes you to the core and makes your skin crawl. Those looks he gives to Eva alone make him one the more memorable and detestable villains of any movie genre. Miller, Jasper Newell, and Rock Duer make Kevin evil incarnate. Swinton makes a complex protagonist stuck between a rock and a hard place, by her own doing or by her own son remains debatable even after viewing this film. Miller and Swinton each deserve to be up for every acting award as well as Lynne Ramsey for directing a real horror be a film on the perception of seeing evil within a person you are supposed to love and defend. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN is one the best films I have seen this year.