In the wake of the Virginia Tech shooting that occurred earlier today, I could see how some might deem my reviewing We Need to Talk About Kevin to be in bad taste. I apologise if you feel this way, but I saw this film prior to the shootings taking place and wrote majority of this post prior to them as well, therefore I hope you will not hold any offense against me. But by the same token, a tragedy is a tragedy and I feel obligated to acknowledge it here.
I would also like to throw up a mild spoiler warning here. A very minor one, the twists at the end shall not be revealed.
Now Showing this week is We Need to Talk About Kevin, directed by Lynne Ramsay. We Need to Talk About Kevin tells the story of Eva (played wonderfully by Tilda Swinton) who is a woman that is resented and ostracised by her entire community in the wake of an unknown tragedy. The film uses flashbacks to slowly reveal the specifics of the tragedy but what is clear from the beginning is that at the centre of it all is Eva’s son Kevin.
This film is not for the faint of heart. I don’t mean that in a violent sense, there isn’t really that much explicit gore by today’s standards; what I mean is that the content and the themes are very dark and heavy. You leave the cinema feeling just a little disturbed by the events that transpired before you, and the feeling is wonderful! I don’t know about anybody else, but I often really enjoy being affected by a film. There is obviously a line to be drawn (I draw it when I’m affected to the point where I cannot let it go and function normally like the film Harry Brown did) but if that line isn’t crossed then you are experiencing truly brilliant film-making. You are not simply watching the film and feeling detached from it all, you actually care about what you are seeing and part of you cares about it enough to trick yourself into thinking it is real. It is a rare phenomenon, but a magical one to behold when it occurs.
The acting in this film was truly spectacular. While there are very few characters, the two main ones (Eva and Kevin) are so excellently portrayed that it was just so captivating to watch. Tilda Swinton’s Eva had such contrast between her present self and her past self; her past self being a more emotionally engaging person while in her pursuit to understand her son, whilst her present self is cold and defeated, constantly struggling internally which Swinton beautifully illustrates in her still demeanour. And Kevin himself was amazing. We see him at three different stages of his life, those stages being him as a toddler, a child and a teenager, and in each one of those stages Kevin uniquely exhibits such menace. Even the toddler is great as he simply holds that blank stare that is just chilling. The teenage Kevin is the true highlight however, Ezra Miller was able to bring such menace yet also convey so much intelligence and lack of humanity into the character. He was a horrifying joy to watch. Another shout out should go to John C. Reilly who played Franklin (Eva’s husband) as I have never seen him play such a serious role. A huge step up from the likes of Step Brothers.
The spoiler warning is going to come back here, so be ready. A problem I had with this film was that I felt the nature of the tragedy wasn’t hidden well enough in the early stages of the film. It is clear from early on that Kevin was responsible for a tragedy at his high school, however the specifics of which are not revealed until the finale. If it was hidden more then the impact of the tragedy would have had that little bit more weight to it, which would have been nice. However, it has plenty of weight to it already so I suppose it is a minor grievance. I also would have appreciated more development as to why Kevin did the things he did, as it just seems like he was born a monster. While it works for the film, I was just so interested as to what was going on in his head and what was pushing him to the edge. Then again, the concluding scene of the film is brilliant in its own right and it would not have worked had they developed things like that so perhaps I should just trust that the filmmaker knows best. It is just that my favourite aspect of the novel “19 Minutes” by Jodi Picoult (which covers a similar story to this film) was that we followed the life of the high school shooter and really learned why he did it, and it was just so interesting to uncover that psychology and I even found myself empathising with him. The lack of major exploration into that field in We Need to Talk About Kevin is not a deal breaker however.
If I had to criticise one directorial choice it would be the motif of red throughout the film. Red is a prominent colour in most of the scenes, and there are often close ups of disgusting red colours such as excess jam squeezing out of a sandwich or canned tomatoes splattering onto a plate. While I understand what Lynne Ramsay is trying to do, it was just too much red. I felt like she was yelling at me: “look! Red! Blood! Get it?!” most of the time until I learned to ignore it. So yes, good idea, just too much of it.
If you’re in the mood for a compelling yet heavy dose of cinema then I highly recommend this film. Just take someone with you so you can counsel each other afterwards.
See you next time!