Directed by Lynne Ramsay (Ratchater, Morvern Callar) and based on Lionel Shriver’s hugely popular and critically acclaimed novel, We Need to Talk About Kevin is a visually sumptuous, meticulously acted and highly ambitious literary adaptation which is by far one of this year’s greatest cinematic achievements.
We Need to Talk About Kevin follows the life of Eva (Tilda Swinton), a once free spirited young woman and novelist living in New York city with aspirations of travelling the world. However, due to the birth of her son Kevin (played by both Erza Miller and Jasper Newell) she’s forced to put her career and travel aspiration on hold. Kevin never harbours any symptoms of being a ‘mummy’s boy’ and there are definitely no oedipal tendencies at play as sadly, Eva never gets to experience the maternal bliss normally associated with childbirth, with the relationship between mother and son fraught with conflict from the start. Baby Kevin screams all day long, whilst in his infancy he refuses to speak (especially the word “mummy”) and is staunchly against learning to use the toilet. Despite her best efforts to bond with Kevin, his seemingly inherent resentment towards her and ill regard for her emotionally frail state makes We Need to Talk About Kevin one of the most vivid cinematic examinations of post-natal depression ever made. Eva’s relaxed and laid back husband (John C Rilley) is of little moral support, oblivious to Kevin’s resentment towards her and continually blinded to the destructive behaviour of his violently indignant son. That is until Kevin, on the brink of his 16th birthday, commits a deeply malevolent and abhorrently violent crime at his high school.
The repercussions of such a horrendous act ripple through the community, with Eva unable to escape the prying eyes and signs of anguish of an angered population. Her home is terrorized by vandals and she can’t even perform the most routine of tasks without encountering some form of verbal or physical abuse. Constantly living in an unending hell, Eva is left with nothing but the haunting memories or Kevin’s upbringing and the deep-seeded guilt that, as his mother, maybe she is to blame.
The story flits back and forth through various flashbacks with relative ease, constantly planting the seeds of destruction along the way whilst capturing different time periods and mood. The film’s structure demands quiet revelation, with each scene slowly peeling away another layer of Eva and Kevin’s explosive relationship until we’re left with nothing but the emotionally numb core of their present existence.
Ramsay’s aesthetically alluring, expressionist approach to storytelling perfectly captures the horror of Eva’s life through a collection of nightmarish dream sequences which, successfully convey her internal suffering. Managing to maintain the psychological magnitude of the original source material, Ramsey has chosen to tell the film through a red haze of blood. Whether it’s the ominous flickering of the digital numbers on a broken alarm clock, the constant presence of artificially coloured bright red food or the less than subtle red paint splattered against Eva’s front door, this symbolic use of red tones not only warns of the immanent bloodshed of Kevin’s Columbine-esque massacre but also Eva’s repressed rage towards her disobedient and deeply unstable son.
Tilda Swinton’s performance as Eva is electrifying. She provides the emotional catalyst for this incredibly visual film, conveying her characters ever present conflict, mixed between her despair at Kevin’s behaviour, her inherent love towards him and the constant guilt she feels for raising such a malicious young man – questioning herself night and day as to whether she may have had a hand in his actions. Her gaunt and haunted appearance is devastating to view, proving that she’s one of the most unappreciated actors of her generation.
We Need to Talk About Kevin is a bold, inventive and intensely unnerving psychological drama which feels part domestic tragedy, part horror story. An intimate character study of one woman’s struggles with maternal responsibilities, this is one of the most shocking, yet beautifully crafted film’s to ever grace the big screen.
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Cast: Tilda Swinton, John C Reilly, Ezra Miller
Runtime: 112 min
Country: UK, USA