WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (2011)
DIRECTOR: Lynne Ramsey
STARRING: Tilda Swinton & Ezra Miller
Talk about onscreen birth control, man. Not since Rosemary’s Baby have I been so convinced that procreating is an absolutely horrifying idea and that no good can come of it. This is one of those films for the masochistic viewer, the kind that I probably wouldn’t recommend to the average viewer. That being said, everything about it was brilliant, disturbing, and hard to swallow. That is, the best kind — worth multiple viewings, worth ownership, and so on.
In We Need to Talk About Kevin, Eva Khatchadourian (Swinton) has become the pariah of her community, punished and blamed for an act of horrific violence committed by her teenage son, Kevin (Miller). As Eva becomes increasingly isolated in her own guilt she reverts into memories of raising her son: his unusual development and vindictive cruelty, as well as his escalating and innate disdain for his mother and family, of which his father seems to be willfully oblivious. Suffering through her memories as she searches for something of an answer, Eva struggles to come to terms her own responsibility, as well as the love she still holds for Kevin in spite of it all.
I actually saw this film a few months ago, and then went out to purchase the source novel; it’s proven to be one of the most deeply unsettling books I’ve ever read. I decided to re-watch the film halfway through the book, and then again upon completion, using it like a visual aid. As a pair the novel and film work together quite perfectly; the screen provides the atmosphere while the page provides the insight. They are companion pieces to one another. With the book I can understand some of the subtler interactions that I’d missed before, the significance of little things. That isn’t to say the film isn’t worth seeing with the book unread; it certainly is. It still stands alone as an interpretation, though it may leave more questions than answers in the end.
The strength of the film lies in its emotional grip. While the book is analytical and in-depth, the film is dreamlike (or nightmarish?) and atmospheric, providing an unsettling framework for its viewers. The credit mostly goes toward the actors, because despite the filmmakers’ beautiful take on the source material, they couldn’t have gotten far without Ms. Swinton and Ezra fucking Miller. We all know Tilda Swinton is legendary — natural, understated, almost alien-like in her physicality — while Miller, whom I’ll never be able to watch again without getting nervous (in spite of his delightful upcoming role as Patrick in The Perks of Being a Wallflower), has the potential to join her ranks. Although the film sometimes struggles with its ability to convey the fine details of the novel, these two actors make up for it in spades with only their expressions and interactions with one another — particularly Miller, who works his performance off the two young actors who play Kevin as children at different ages. The three of them have the “Kevin death-glare” down to an art. Well done, boys.
This is a beautiful, chilling film; it is also unique, in that it is not better or worse than the novel, but better with the novel. I strongly recommend both, simultaneously and independently. Soon I’ll be adding this to my shelf. It has certainly earned its place.
FINAL GRADE: A-