Monday, February 13, 2012

We Need to Talk About Kevin More Often

Films like We Need to Talk About Kevin serve as great reminder that, even in a cinema rich city such as Toronto, sometimes you have wait in line like everyone else. Although the film screened at TIFF, and has opened in theatres in the United States and other parts of the world, Lynne Ramsay’s latest film took an unusually long time to be released in theatres here. After seeing the film make numerous top ten lists, it was excruciating to have to wait to see what all the fuss was about. Fortunately, We Need to Talk About Kevin is not only deserving of the rave reviews, but easily surpassed the high expectations I had for the film.

Based on the novel by Lionel Shriver’s, We Need to Talk About Kevin revolves around Eva (Tilda Swinton), a mother who tries her best to connect with her son, Kevin (Ezra Miller), but hits road blocks at every corner. After Kevin goes on a killing spree at his school, Eva tries to put her life back together while facing the daily ire of her local community. This forces Eva to look back on her family’s past and question where she and her husband, Franklin (John C. Reilly), went wrong raising Kevin. Did she fail as a parent? Or was Kevin just evil from birth?

Although the theme of teen violence is prevalent in We Need to Talk About Kevin, it is a mistake to look at the film as a commentary on school shootings. It is really a film that focuses on the relationship between a boy and his mother. We Need to Talk About Kevin is more of film that aims to show the horrors that come with being a parent. This film often plays like a sequel to Rosemary’s Baby. If you ever wondered what it would have been like for Rosemary to raise the spawn of the devil, look no further than this film.

By setting her horror film within the realm of modern day occurrences, such as school shootings, Lynne Ramsay is not only able to bring a bit more realism to her film, but also make it far more chilling. What heightens the terror is the fact that Eva has it rough throughout the entire film. This is emphasized nicely by the way the film constantly bounces around time drifting back and forth from the present to the past. From a young age we see that Kevin has figured out how to use manipulation to his advantage. The loving way he reacts to Franklin is a stark contrast to how he interacts with Eva. Ramsay constantly reinforces the notion that Eva is fighting an uphill battle in a war of good and evil.

The interesting thing about this war is that Ramsay raises questions about whether or not there is even “good” in the equation. Though not quite hitting the mark in this regards, Ramsay does try to show that Eva is by no means a saint. She does several questionable things that most would not associate with good parenting. Unfortunately, these moments come off as a result of a mother reaching her breaking point instead of someone who is not a good parent. This is especially true in comparison to all the evil things that Kevin does throughout the film. For her part though, Tilda Swinton does a wonderful job conveying the pain and frustration within Eva. Swinton gives the best performance of her career, which is saying a lot considering her strong body of work. Swinton really accentuates Ramsay’s excellent direction nicely.

Lynne Ramsay is most well-known for her superb film Morvern Callar, but she really outdoes herself with We Need to Talk About Kevin. From the opening sequences at a tomato throwing festival up to the final moments with Eva and Kevin, the film is stunningly engaging. The theme of blood flows throughout the film as the colour red is frequently featured. This not only signifies the violence that Kevin commits in the film, but also the blood ties that Eva and Kevin will always have. As a stylize horror film, We Need to Talk About Kevin does an outstanding job of making you think twice before becoming a parent.


  1. You think it's a horror film? I suppose one could argue for that, though it didn't quite seem that way to me. I think it's one of those films that's tough to pin down to any one genre.

  2. This film is so disturbing, chilling, and at times, very hard to watch but it's terribly tense with a near-perfect performance from Swinton, who I usually don't like but here she's absolutely amazing and definitely deserves that Oscar nomination. Great review C.S.

  3. Having done my Auteurs piece on Ramsay last Dec., this is a film that is still staying with me for the way it tells this story about a woman and her son. I love Ramsay's approach to the narrative while not willing to judge either character for their actions. It's a film that should be seen more. I'm not happy that the Academy chooses to overlook the film.

  4. Jose (Movies Kick Ass) made the point that the film's failing - something I agree with - (although I happened to like it, him not so much) is the way it seems set on expressing "this child is evil, this is what he does" giving Miller a particularly role to play but one which he rises to with aplomb, the film is essentially a duet between he and Swinton and they both sing (egads, that pun is awful but unavoidable).

    I do feel that visually Lynne tends to over-saturate the narrative more than is necessary, but it's an audacious one. I like it.

  5. @Rich – There are several moments and clues in the film that lead me to believe that Ramsay is making a horror film. Just not the traditional style horror film many are use to. This film would play very well in a triple bill with The Omen and Rosemary’s Baby

    @Dan O – Swinton should have been nominated, I wonder if the film was just too cold for the Academy?

    @thevoid99 – This film reminded me that I need to catch up with Ramsay’s film Ratcatcher. It is the only one of her film that I need to see.

    @Andrew – While Ramsay could have made Kevin a little more complex, in regards to whether or not he has redeeming qualities, I think she clearly wanted to go for the Demon Seed vibe; probably to emphasize the horror aspect of the film. I completely agree that at its heart, the film is a duet that soars brilliantly. The visuals did not bother me but I can see how Ramsay’s ambitious visuals could rub some the wrong way.

  6. So the film employs the non-linear narrative tool? Does it do so to good effect? I'm getting a little bit tired of it, to be honest.

  7. Phips1:52 pm

    I guess I am out of the norm in saying that I disliked this movie...kind of alot.

    For starters, however, Swinton and Miller were great...the latter especially. He delivers a superbly chilling performance. And Swinton...he's just creepy as hell and does well as a gaunt-looking victim struggling with some for of PTSD and abuse from neighbors, coworkers, etc.

    However, the film was just way too weird for me. Johnny Greenwood's (Radiohead) score seemed too bizarre. It fit at places and not so much at others. The narrative jumping around was a tad confusing in the beginning because you have no idea what's going on but then it gets easier to understand.

    I was left with some major questions at the end.

    What the heck was that trial flashback? His sentencing? Why did he lawyer say she'd lose the house?

    Why is she living in poverty?

    What the heck was with the tomato bit in the beginning? I know its a real thing in Spain or Italy (I think) but why is it in there? Sure it goes along with the theme of red, as you mentioned, but its gotta have more meaning besides being another place for red to be tossed in our face (literally).

    I, personally, dont see what the hype is about. I heard it all before going in which made me desperate to watch it....not seeing the hype now... =/

  8. @edgar - I think the non-linear telling works well. It would also be equally as effective if it was told straight forward.

    @Phips - You might be in the majority now actually. Since the film is getting a wider release it seems to be dividing a lot of people. People either love it or hate it.

    In regards to her being in poverty, I took it as her losing her job due to the shooting and struggled to get work anywhere in the town as everyone knew who she was. Granted you have to suspend your disbelief that she would still stay in the town after everything went down.

    The scene in Spain can be interrupted in several different ways. I saw more as a foreshadowing the changes about to happen. At that point the blood imagery represents joy and freedom, yet as the film progresses the blood represents a weight that she cannot break free from. Again, this is how I interpreted it, I could be way off.

  9. without a school shooting involved in the script, this film would be a weightless piece of psychohorror.
    with the school shooting, it is an irresponsible piece of commentary on hows and whys that really need to be talked about - instead, it gives the society that's rightly unsettled by its reality a piece of gratifying fiction to steer away from actualities of the issue.
    with all due respect to the high artistic values of the film and all the creative effort involved, this movie has implications that are unexcusable by any merit.
    it all seems to me a deeply bad idea.


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