By on October 29th, 2011

We need to talk about Kevin

Doranman does. Read his thoughts on Kevin below.

Watching the captivating trinity of director Lynne Ramsay, star Tilda Swinton and Lionel Shriver, of whose novel this film is an adaptation, in action, it struck me how rare it is even in this day and age to see top end credit listings dominated by female talent, something that was not much remarked upon amid the stir We Need To Talk About Kevin caused at Cannes this year. Perhaps inevitably, the film was described by more than a few (male) critics as a feminist parable, and while I don’t object to the interpretation, I intend to continue this review under the assumption that women can tell stories without recourse to gender politics, radical as it may seem.

Swinton plays Eva Khatchadourian, a woman living amidst the fallout of a dreadful Columbine-style massacre commited by her son, Kevin (Ezra Miller). Vandals desecrate her home nightly, strangers cross the road just to smack her in the face, and all the while Eva suffers without complaint, apparently harbouring much of the guilt for raising such a lousy kid. We follow Eva in her efforts rebuilding her life, and through a string of wonderfully realised flashbacks, attempt to piece together exactly what went wrong with this difficult child.

It appears that Kevin had it in for Eva from the start; scowling, screaming, soiling his drawers on cue, and in one upsetting scene, in which we see her painstakingly wallpaper her study in rare maps, taking a paint filled super soaker to all his mother holds dear. Given that we view the past entirely through Eva’s eyes, we are invited to speculate that she is deliberately convincing herself the child was born “evil”, in order to assuage her guilt. I am not convinced however; the ambiguity feels forced.

In fact this is the film’s main weakness: it wants to be psychological drama, but just can’t resist regressing into horror tropes as seen in the Omen or The Bad Seed. Kevin’s groundless and articulate evil stands in stark contrast to the troubled backgrounds and psychological issues of real life problem children. It is fortunate, however, that we have Ezra Miller as Kevin, and the wonderful direction does not hurt matters. There is one scene in which a slow zoom on the teenage Kevin’s eye appears to take the audience into the unfeeling gaze of an arachnid.

Actually Ramsay’s direction is easily the movie’s greatest triumph. Intimate and tactile, it conveys parenthood in all its shreaking, drooling, pooping, puking nastiness, and revels in close-up detail to the extent that a jam sandwich feels threatening. Literally. The pace is leisurely but never slow, and almost every shot is filled with macabre delights, including a rather disgusting motif of oral fixation, a trait that Eva and Kevin apparently share, or not – who knows, there is a certain dream logic on display here, the line between fact and memory thoroughly blurred.

The effect is to give the movie an unsanitised, blood n’ guts realness. Which of course makes the inevitable outcome feel a little mean-spirited, leading this reviewer into searching for some kind of serious point being made, outside the skillful exploitation of parental anxiety. It is not an easy task.

I propose the Khatchadourian family to be emblematic of a crisis in parenthood. An intensely proud individual, Eva resents her new status as a mother, necessitating as it does the giving up of one’s individuality. At one point she spits “mommy was happy before Kevin came along”- a horrible sentiment, even taking into account Kevin’s horridness. Her husband, a truly modern family man, is a dithering non-presence. Perhaps in our scramble for personal gratification and advancement we have sold our children short, allowing them to cultivate their behaviour and morality from the plurality of sources available to them by means which we, as parents, find increasingly alien and threatening.

Then again, at a later stage it is revealed that Kevin collects computer viruses. Eva, stumped as to why anyone would do such a thing, inquires after a point. “The point is, “Kevin replies, “there is no point”. Social comment, straight up chiller or intractable mystery, We Need to Talk about Kevin is on general release from the 21st October, and should be seen by anyone with an interest in cinematic craft. Unfocused as it may be, it remains a fascinating film.

We need to talk about Kevin


  1. 1 Julian
    October 31st, 2011 at 12:54 am

    I’ve been planning to catch this one when it becomes available for streaming on netflix.

  2. 2 Ronan
    October 31st, 2011 at 9:56 am

    This sounds like an intriguing film. Tilda Swinton is an actress who really interests me, she is fascinating to watch. She brings such intesity to each of her roles.

  3. 3 ruth
    November 7th, 2011 at 11:44 pm

    Despite the dismal subject matter, this really piqued my curiosity. I’d have rent this and find out what it’s all about. Tilda is a fascinating actress, I heard she’s actually not that into acting though. I find that really surprising.

  4. 4 Ronan
    November 9th, 2011 at 9:30 pm

    I find that incredible and a little pretentious. She doesn’t think of herself as an actress and yet she won an Oscar and is evidently a very fine actress. She does fascinate me though. Ever since I saw her in Constantine as Gabriel she captured my imagination.

  5. […] Review written by Doranman over at Filmplicity […]

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