We Need to Talk About Kevin

By Moira Sullivan
John C Reilly, Lynne Ramsey, Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller at Cannes
In Lynne Ramsey"We Need to Talk about Kevin",  Eva (Tilda Swinton) and Franklin (John C Reilly) play the parents of a young boy that grows up to be a psychopathic killer. There are many, many warning signs during his upbringing, although it is clear that he was born with mental deficiencies. Kevin (Ezra Miller) is problematic from the beginning, either by putting too much salt on his food, or by being cold and cruel to both his parents and later his sister. Eva's reactions are scrutinized more than her husband's. Franklin is away most of the time and just seems to come home and pat his son on the head like a dog and disappear - most likely to work given the expanse and expense of their home.

It’s important to point out that the film is fragmented as far as narrative order so that we are seeing the prequel, and sequel to an attack by bow and arrow of high school students in a padlocked gymnasium. And we actually never see that, narratively, only fragments to suggest the scene and anguished relatives outside while gurneys of victims are rolled to ambulances.

Instead Eva is shown in the beginning of the film being held high by a huge crowd of people crammed together and being deluged by tomato sauce, or we see her car and house spray bombed with tomato sauce, or Kevin wearing a spotted orange t-shirt that looks like spattered blood, or tomato sauce. The inverted narrative order and the detail paid to the interior design of this American family’s home visualizes what might be the interior of Kevin’s brain – a huge modern, and youthful edifice with wooden furniture, and everything tidily arranged, empty cold and devoid of feeling. A living room with spacious couches, and yet all we ever see is the nuclear family, mother father, son and daughter. 

Perhaps it is the flashbacks of Eva as she reflects on what she might have missed about her son, but there are things that she doesn’t see, that we do, like the amount of strawberry jam put on white bread for a sandwich where Kevin squeezes the bread together and the red filling overflows. Or when he peals a piece of candy that looks like an eyeball in macro closeup with juice squirting as he squeezes down on the object. Later we see the young daughter with a bandage over her eye.

Was Kevin created by his environment, or was Kevin created before birth? That is the shocking question that runs through your mind as you see this film. Certainly the township blames the mother for it all. And there are several shots of the couple’s courtship before Kevin was conceived without any visible evidence of weirdness in case it’s the two of them.

We Need to Talk About Kevin was presented at the Cannes Film Festival and was a serious contender for the Palme d’or.  However,  in 2003 Gus Van Sant won for his film about Columbine called Elephant and the subject of high school murders was unlikely going to capture another award.

Tilda Swinton at Golden Globes -nominated for best actress 

With this film, Lynne Ramsey has certainly escalated her visual ability as a storyteller. Her most recent film, Movern Caller (2002), was excellent but the strength of this film is that it doesn’t rely on dialogue. The spectator must assemble the pieces to make sense and has to work for this film to enfold, which is the sign of great cinema. 

Tilda Swinton, as usual, is the daring actress who allows us to observe all of her raw emotions without words. And kudos also go to Ezra Miller, whose internal struggle is always captured on his face, clearly having done a quick study  of Swinton’s work. 
© 2012 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 02/29/12  Movie Magazine International