We Need to Talk about Kevin
30 October 2011
We really need to talk about We Need to Talk about Kevin, because it is truly an exceptional film with a central performance that will put many to shame. Coming off a wave of postivie buzz, the film was a critical hit at this year’s Cannes - so much so that it looked like it would walk away with all the big gongs. Sadly, it wasn’t so. Perhaps as a consolation, it won the top prize at this year’s London Film Festival - an event that despite all the local hoopla fails to draw as much attention as Cannes, Toronto, Berlin or Venice. Regardless, the film’s victory is not to be underestimated. We Need to Talk about Kevin is a brilliant film.
Tilda Swinton is Eva, mother to an obnoxious brat named Kevin (played by various actors of varying ages). The film’s first narrative maps Eva’s struggles to ‘love’ Kevin throughout his childhood all the way to his teenage years. In a parallel narrative, Eva is trying to cope with the aftermath of a horrible event. The film jumps back and forth between the two timelines and although it is nauseatingly confusing at the beginning, once it settles down it turns into an incredibly tense ‘thriller’, for want of a better word.
Based on Lionel Shriver’s best-seller (which, unfortunately, I’m not familiar with), Lynne Ramsay’s film does an excellent job of telling very little and showing enough. Eva and Kevin’s relationship is too complicated to pseudo-psychoanalyse in a post such as this. This is a story where the ‘grey area’ is glorified. The ‘nature vs nurture’ debate is an easy way to analyse Kevin’s behaviour, but it runs deeper than that. Without contextualising what may have been the causes of the effects, the film just shows events as they unfold - not everything needs a reason in a universe that runs on entropy. Everything decays. Deal with it.
Perhaps that is a very bleak way of looking at things, but the film is not there to offer any answers or a consoling message. It is a slap in the face for those who wish to find a reason for one’s evil behaviour. Sometimes people just do things and they (might) have a reason for this.
This is not an easy film to watch and you will not be filled with warm and fuzzy feelings. But you will know that you are in the presence of a very special film. There are minor flaws (John C Reilly’s husband feels like a placeholder than a character), but this is a very strong and powerful film overall.