We Need to Talk About Kevin Reviews
A slow and meandering film, Lynne Ramsay's contemplative drama asks many questions about parenthood, violence, and sociopathy but offers very few answers; for such high topics, one can't blame it for that. For example, we don't get easy answers like gratuitous child abuse or violent video games to saddle Kevin's behavior on.
The flashback moments of Kevin's early childhood are all unsettling, and while the multiple storylines don't always mesh to a consistent narrative, Ramsay succeeds in creating an oppressive and tense mood.
Overall, if you're tied to the traditional three-act narrative, this film isn't for you, but it is a strong character-based mediation.
This is really a controversial movie that I think will raise a lot of different emotions in different people. I think it is very well done. Just such a horrible sad situation which I believe is based on a true story?
"Kevin"'s protagonist is his mother - Eva Khatchadourian, played with tense (perhaps too tense) intensity by Tilda Swinton. The story follows her struggle to exist in the town where the crimes were committed. Despised by her fellow townsfolk who either mistreat her, ignore her or simply gawk at her, Eva has to find a way to co-exist and spends most of the film, in a heavy-handed moment of symbolism, unsuccessfully scraping red paint off of her house. The film flashes back and forth between her present day where she attempts to reintroduce herself into this society in which she's unwelcome while visiting her son in jail with her past where the story of Kevin and his childhood unfolds.
And this is where the film's problems begin to manifest themselves. The film doesn't seem to know what it wants to say so at the end, it leaves you saying too many conflicting thoughts. Kevin is portrayed from birth as irrationally hateful towards Eva - so is his behavior genetic? Eva is shown to be bitter toward having to raise Kevin (while is seen to be a nurturing mother later to their daughter), so is his behavior learned? Or is Kevin just pure evil? One sequence has baby Kevin crying at a high-pitch for hours in a row with Eva but when Dad comes home the child is OK. How would a baby know to show such a lack of connection to his mother unless it was naturally inclined to be that way? And he also shows to be a highly intelligent toddler for no apparent reason knowing when to deceive one parent while showing his true colors to the other?
Tilda Swinton again proves to be an amazing actress, but her hard portrayal of Eva makes the character's moments of tenderness seem out of character and placed there just to balance out the character's flaws instead of just letting the flaws live.
"Kevin" had some really nice moments especially the ending which is extremely believable and thought-provoking, it's a shame that the film didn't take that conclusion and make the actions leading up to it consistent with a character who would utter those thoughts. That would have focused "Kevin", made it extremely provocative and thoughful, and would have cut back on the creepy horror film conventions that the film seemed to want to shun in the first place.
As the titled suggests, something is amiss with Kevin. While Kevin‚(TM)s problems are thoroughly probed and unfortunately played up to the hilt, the main story here revolves around the demons that plague Kevin‚(TM)s mother Eva (Swinton). Eva is an almost comically spiritless, self-loathing mother. The source of her disconsolation is of course her son, a hard-boiled psychopath who is responsible for the death of many of his fellow classmates. Whether she is suffering the ire of a victim‚(TM)s family, the casual oppression of a stranger‚(TM)s glare, or from her own cerebral affliction, Eva is unnervingly sympathetic.
After all, choosing to bring a child into this world a momentous gamble. Sure, one can nurture their child in a manner that may improve the chances of he/she having a promising future. But, in the end, you are just casting a line out into an ocean of elements that all have an immense capacity for shaping its fate. For reasons unknown, Kevin is adamant in his pursuit to bring more cruelty into this world. And while the actions of Eva and her son are worlds apart, Eva knows deep down that they were cut from the same cloth.
This sprawling character study is given focus by Ramsey‚(TM)s excellent direction. Every moment seems meticulously planned, subtly showing the likeness and shared culpability of both mother and son. Ramsey‚(TM)s visual knack also causes many scenes, already brimming with tension, to burst with outright terror. (There is a dinner scene that takes place in the aftermath of an ocular accident that will make you stir in your seat.)
The camerawork is gracefully disorienting, blending vignettes of past memories and the current, albeit hazy, moments that constitute Eva‚(TM)s reality. Ramsey‚(TM)s use of color is also startling, even if it is a bit overdone. With reoccurring scenes of Eva miserably basking in a cardinal glow, or the searing crimson alarm clock blinking 12:00 A.M and consequently reminding the viewer of the eternal hell that Eva has imprisoned herself in, the colors will get lodged into your mind.
Even the sound is penetrating. It soaks into your very core and excellently immerses the viewer into Eva‚(TM)s anxious, guilt-ridden state of being. Employing the musical stylings of artists such as Buddy Holly, Ramsey juxtaposes the idealism of these songs with the stark reality of a world that seems unremittingly focused on her implosion. All in all, Ramsey‚(TM)s direction is very impressive.
Unfortunately, the film‚(TM)s script doesn‚(TM)t keep up with the sharp direction. Although it is has been harped on by other critics, it is fair to point out how gallingly sinister the child is. I do understand that this is not an objective portrayal of Kevin. That the memories of Kevin are filtered through Eva‚(TM)s crippling concoction of misery & self-doubt. Unfortunately, the script‚(TM)s continual playing up of the psychopathic nature of Kevin can become quite jarring after awhile and often seems at odds with the heartbreaking study of one mother‚(TM)s lament for innocence lost. Especially since this takes up much of the second act of the film. There were many instances in which Kevin‚(TM)s retorts seemed so far-fetched, even for a distressed mind. I understand the need to show how the confluence of both of their personalities is what created this situation, but I just wish Kevin‚(TM)s character would have been treated with some of the same subtle care that Eva‚(TM)s was.
We Need to Talk About Kevin can best be likened to a quilt that has been soaked in blood. One that is masterfully weaved together even if some of its parts don‚(TM)t concord with the whole. The parts that do work however, driven primarily by an awe-inspiring performance from Swinton (I know, I know), are incredibly powerful.
This is a film about a mother confronting motherhood across an overlapping three-act structure: before Kevin's birth, with Kevin, after Kevin's crime. Tilda Swinton is always great, but here she is absolutely masterful (perhaps her best performance ever) -- her selection of uncomprehending thousand yard stares far removed from the opaque look favored by many other actors working to this level. It helps that the three Kevin's who play the title role are all uniformly superb as well - hideous, sly, handsome.
It's the visuals that pulled me up and pressed me back down over and over. The opening 5 minutes or so are worth more than many hours of mediocre film making that I'm perfectly happy to sit through as a general rule in a cinema: the Boschian Tomatina fight, with the equivocal vision of a blissed out Eva buried in the blood red Sartrean-viscous filth is a particularly arresting opening statement. It's not an easy watch, although there is no sensationalism. It is, however, always poetic.
The only criticism holding We Need To Talk About Kevin back from being a flat out masterpiece is that Kevin is portrayed as being a little too evil. If the film were a straight horror film, then that would be fine, but I would argue that it isn't; therefore, the character teeters on being unrealistic. This is merely a small gripe. Overall, this film is an astonishing achievement -- a bold entry into the classic nature vs. nurture argument that is horrifying, thought-provoking and a disturbing encapsulation of the times we live in.
What I liked about it, is that this side of these sort of tragedy's usually remains under exposed. These parents are victims too, although they generally are held accountable for their kid's actions. But this boy is a textbook psycho/sociopath.
I can't believe that this sort of sh*t still happens.
Motherhood has not been the rewarding ventures as promised for Eva (Tilda Swinton). Kevin (Jasper Newell at a child; Ezra Miller as a teen) wails so incessantly as a baby that she seeks out the sweet sounds of a jackhammer to drown out her shrieking babe. Even as a toddler, she knows there's something just not right about her sullen, uncommunicative son. He seems to deprive her of any affection or attention she might find gratifying. Truly it seems much of Kevin's motivation in life is to humiliate and torment his mother. It starts with being deliberately unresponsive as a child, and turning on a dime when in the presence of his father, then to delayed toilet training because he seems to enjoy making his mother clean up his mess (metaphor?), to the unexplainable massacre at her son's hands. We Need to Talk About Kevin is an immersive experience, occasionally piling on how irredeemable Kevin is as a character. It also speaks to the unreliable nature of our shell-shocked point of view. It's a disquieting film to say the least but I found it riveting and compelling at every second, artfully exploring a form of grief and social isolation that few will ever be able to fully understand.
There's tremendous psychological detail to this nightmarish parenting tale, and it's those details that make the film feel eerily authentic and not exploitative. I found it fascinating to be drawn into this world, like I was watching an intimate, illustrated case study come alive. I found it very telling that after Eva accidentally injures her son I a fit of frustration, she apologizes but can only bring herself to do so under the shield of third person, saying, "Mommy shouldn't have done that," rather than, "I shouldn't have done that." And then when they get home, little Kevin unspools a perfectly believable story to cover-up what really happened. Even at six this kid is a shockingly adept liar, possibly because he's a budding sociopath. Horror movies have been bringing us little pint-sized terrors for decades, from Bad Seed to the Village of the Damned, but those wicked kids seem like child's play compared to Kevin, a startling, vacant child who is the scariest of the bunch exactly because he feels completely real. No Satanic imagery, glowing red eyes, or over-the-top associations needed; this is one messed up kid.
Watching this tumultuous and combative struggle for domination is equal turns compelling and terrifying. In many ways Eva adopts the role of Cassandra, the Greek figure cursed with visions of the future that nobody believed; Eva warns the people in her life that Kevin isn't right, that he's entirely capable of great evil, yet everyone ignores her dire warnings, and even Eva is culpable to some degree of enabling. Rather than discipline Kevin or stick to her principles, she passively accepts the situation and carries on with full knowledge that Kevin is going unchallenged. To everyone else he seems like a bright, helpful, normal teenage boy, which is why dear old dad (John C. Reilly) is so condescending and dismissive when Eva voices concern. Parenting is supposed to be instinctive, right? Eva feels like a failure, that this young soul has been steered to the dark side under her watch, and I think her hesitation to continue ringing alarm can be summed up by the fact that she's just exhausted, tired of fighting a fight that everyone else ignores. I think she may also be desperately hopeful that she can ride this out, that it's only a phase for her son, that somehow he'll grow up to be normal, loving child through some miracle, like a switch will be flipped. The only time Kevin ever shows his mother compassion is when she reads him a bedtime story involving archery, a hobby that would prove deadly.
The film is told non-linearly as we observe the fragmented memory of Eva. We have to pick up the pieces of life much like Eva recovering from her son's destruction. It's interesting to discover the symbolic connections between scenes, the connective tissue binding the memories together, and director/co-writer Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher) does an exceptional job of filling in key details to enrich this woman's horrid life. The scenes don't seem to last long, but Ramsay and her team provide all the meaning and weight we need so that the scenes matter. There's a heavy amount of dread suffused into every scene in this movie, as the totality of events starts to become clear. The metaphors aren't subtle but they are effective. Prepare for a lot of red in the color palate: squashed tomatoes, strawberry jam, splattered paint across Eva's front porch as an act of vandalism. She spends the rest of the movie trying to clean away the red stains on her home (see what I mean about subtlety?). The splintered narrative also serves as a statement on Eva's frame of mind, trying to move forward but haunted by a tragedy that goes down to the marrow.
And of course all praise of the film needs to also be placed at he feet of versatile actress Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton). She's not given many lines of dialogue but what she is able to do to make her character feel fully lived-in is astonishing. There are so many different points of her life to play, from young exuberance to growing disdain to zombie-like pariah, and Swinton doesn't strike one false note. Even during her grief and guilt she doesn't go into hysterics. This is a woman that simply wants to waste away and be forgotten. Even when it looks like she might find some small measure of satisfaction or affection from another person, the movie sucker punches you. You realize that her son may be in jail but she's serving a sentence all her own. Swinton is heartbreaking and subtle and nuanced even when it appears she's simply staring off into space. You don't really want to be in this woman's head, and yet Swinton's performance puts us there, hence all of my analytical assessment above. She's a mixture of self-loathing, denial, bitterness, and penitence, and Swinton gives us telling glimpses of the storm below the surface. Her guilt is eating her away from the inside out. I'll go on record and say it's a crime that Swinton wasn't nominated for a Best Actress Oscar (I personally apologize for not nominating her for the PSP Silver Cines).
I feel the need to talk and talk about We Need to Talk About Kevin, to sing its despairing praises, to encourage lovers of challenging, complex, and emotionally devastating film to experience this exceptional movie. It's psychologically rich, bold, and revealing with even the smallest details to round out this hellish family scenario. It's not an easy tow hours to sit through, not by a long shot, but there are certain rewards for those who choose to wad through the darkness, Swinton's haunting performance among them. This is a difficult subject and it's produced a difficult film, but sometimes we need to be put in uncomfortable circumstances to get at a greater truth. What is the greater truth of the film? Maybe that parenting is really, when it's all said and done, a leap of faith, maybe that avoidance of hard decisions is no solution, and maybe that some people are just beyond redemption. A movie that makes you think? Somebody ought to talk about this one.
Nate's Grade: A
Great Film! No, "We need to talk about Kevin" is NOT the feel-good movie of the year. In fact, it is a difficult film to watch. You should not go see this film if wanting to leave the theater with a smile on your face. However, as a character study, this film is one of the most affecting that I have seen in a long time, and if there is one actress who was robbed of an Oscar nomination, it is indeed Tilda Swinton, who is nothing short of brilliant. The overall impact of the film rides through peaks and troughs. With some sections brilliantly gripping and others making you wish away the remainder of the film. In general the film does carry a strong and unsettling momentum until the final credits.
Eva Khatchadourian is trying to piece together her life following the "incident". Once a successful travel writer, she is forced to take whatever job comes her way, which of late is as a clerk in a travel agency. She lives a solitary life as people who know about her situation openly shun her, even to the point of violent actions toward her. She, in turn, fosters that solitary life because of the incident, the aftermath of which has turned her into a meek and scared woman. That incident involved her son Kevin Khatchadourian, who is now approaching his eighteenth birthday. Eva and Kevin have always had a troubled relationship, even when he was an infant. Whatever troubles he saw, Franklin, Eva's complacent husband, just attributed it to Kevin being a typical boy. The incident may be seen by both Kevin and Eva as his ultimate act in defiance against his mother.
Well made, well acted, and the kid is genuinely creepy at the start and terrifying near the end. That's the best way to make a "creepy kid" film. It isn't necessarily important to show just how fucked up a kid is early on by showing him torturing animals, like they do in some films. I loved how Lynne Ramsey approached the young Kevin. He's just a little bastard that will do anything to hurt his mother, no matter how trivial or small; such as not rolling a ball back to her. Kevin is gradually built up through the memories of his depressed mother after the horrific events that took place later in his life.†
This is a film that is unsettling, but not in the way that I thought it would be. When this was described to me, I thought it sounded kind of Omenesque, or maybe like Orphan. In reality, this isn't a horror film, nor is it a thriller of any sort. There's no movie terror in the character of Kevin, but real life terror is all over this movie. Not only are we given a sociopath, but we also have to see the mothers(played really well by Tilda Swinton) life after the fact. She has to avoid people walking on the streets, people vandalize her home. Her life is a living nightmare. The film is much more about her feelings and her own guilt than it is about Kevin or what he did.†
We Need to Talk About Kevin may come off as overly artsy to those who go in expecting another standard "kid" horror movie. You must know that that type of film was not Ramsey's aspiration. She went for a very psychological look at the after effects and also showed how Kevin got to where he was near the end. On that level, she did a nearly perfect job. The young Kevin is extremely well written. All the tell tale signs of a sociopath are written all over him. How he stares, how he talks, and how he acts(especially the difference of how he acts with his mom to how he acts with his dad) show us how nuts this kid is.
I really like We Need to Talk About Kevin. It's well paced and just an incredibly well made and acted film. The cast is really good; Tilda Swinton in particular, but I always like John C. Reilly too. Another thing that makes this movie such a good watch is that I can almost guarantee it is not what you are expecting. When a film can surprise you in a good way; that is always a good sign.