Directed by Lynne Ramsay
It’s impossible to truly pinpoint the type of film We Need to Talk About Kevin really is or even strives to be. Its dramatic tendencies and subtle tone belie its horrific content and downright evil antagonist, prompting you to ponder the true nature of director Lynne Ramsay: Are we watching a horror film, a drama? An answer is never truly given, but this is a good thing.
Much of the appeal surrounding We Need to Talk Kevin is directly related to its ambiguity, not just concerning its genre, but the nature of its titular character. We Need to Talk About Kevin follows Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton) in the aftermath of a school shooting perpetrated by her son, Kevin. Living alone and working a menial job at a travel agency, she is subjected to endless abuse, both physical and mental, at the hands of the victims’ families. This is intercut with prior events, beginning with Eva’s life as a free-spirited travel writer until her life is turned upside down with the birth of Kevin.
As Kevin grows up, it’s clear he has problems. It’s not explicitly clear that he hates Eva; he expresses a genuine love for her at least once in the film, though given his sinister tendencies, it’s entirely possible this is nothing more than a charade to give Eva a false sense of security. I don’t think he hates her; instead, he resents her. The thing is, you never find out why. One scene, seemingly innocuous in its appearance in the film, sees Eva and her daughter, Celia, walking down the street before the latter stops and points out Kevin. He’s standing across the street, staring silently at a large photograph of Eva. No explanation is given, but one isn’t needed. His relationship with his mother is something we can’t quite pinpoint, and all of his actions, however evil they may be, are born of this.
The character is brought to life by three different actors portraying Kevin at three different stages in his life, and they do so in a seamless manner, as if they’re of the same brood and the film was shot over the course of several years. All three – Rock Duer (toddler Kevin), Jasper Newell (Kevin aged 6-8 years), and Ezra Miller (teenage Kevin) – never fail to be in sync, with the penultimate incarnation of what appears to be pure evil rounding out the development of a child who, for all intents and purposes, has no reason to act the way he does. He’s the embodiment of evil, but through it all you can sense there’s a reason, however hidden beneath layers and layers of psychoses one dare not venture into.
As Eva, Tilda Swinton brings a sense of stoicism to the character, venturing out of her comfort zone only when pressured by Kevin’s misdeeds. In the end she is, in effect, playing two characters: the loving yet endlessly frustrated mother of a boy with a dark secret and a broken shell of a human being who has lost everything she once had. This performance makes it all too easy to follow the narrative, which can throw the viewer off early on before stabilizing at around the halfway point and focusing heavily on the teenage Kevin, as opposed to post-shooting Eva.
We Need to Talk About Kevin is a dark, disturbing, and above all deeply emotional film with a gut-punch of an ending that attempts to instill in the audience a deep sense of confusion. What we take away from the film is directly related to Eva’s experience; filled with uncertainty, we’re left with more questions than answers, and in that I think Ramsay succeeded admirably.
4 out of 5