“She is the wrong person…in the wrong life…with the wrong child”.
Review by One Fly Chica
“We Need To Talk About Kevin” is an earth-shattering, mind-bending and life-changing film.
It has been years since a film disturbed me, excited me and attacked my every emotion as deeply as with “We Need To Talk About Kevin”. I saw the movie three weeks ago, but needed to go see it again because it was just THAT good. This film is a cinematic masterpiece on all levels and I highly recommend taking two hours of your life to be shaken, rattled and rolled.
It was the LACK of talking about Kevin that left both the characters and audience alike wondering just what hit them…
“We Need To Talk About Kevin” is the chilling story of a mother who is unable to form an attachment with her first-born. The story takes us from the protagonist mother’s days of wanderlust and freedom as a travel writer living the high life in a New York City loft to suburban entrapment by a nefarious child and a husband unwilling to talk about the deep hole of despair that she is slowly falling in to.
This film delves into the usually taboo subject of a woman’s lack of maternal instinct, postpartum depression, and how deeply the lack of natural bonding with one’s offspring can affect both the mother and child. In this case, it is that lack of attachment that leads the question of whether the un-“nuturing” behaviour of the mother, Eva, had a direct impact on the increasingly disturbing tendencies that her child, Kevin, was seemingly born with or whether it was purely “nature”.
Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton) is a walking zombie, living in the wake of a school massacre conducted by her son, Kevin, who, as the film reveals, was a diabolical presence in her life virtually from birth. Played by three actors, including the poised and chilling tag team of Jasper Newell (the kindergarten era) and Ezra Miller (the teen years), Kevin is a hellion, incessantly wailing as an infant, refusing defiantly to be toilet trained, fiendishly abusive to his baby sister, and finally, when he’s able, continually undermining of his mother’s personal and professional lives. The phrase ‘problem child,’ even applied euphemistically, doesn’t begin to describe him.
And when Kevin’s pathology finally blossoms from mother-son tug-of-war to homicidal rampage, Eva is, once again, his victim, even if she is physically unscathed. As in real life when such things happen, survivors, families of the dead, and disinterested outsiders all point fingers at the parents and feel no compunction about expressing their hurt and anger in vicious outbursts against Eva, who, perhaps foolishly, continues to live in the community so as to be able to visit her incarcerated son. (Shawn Levy, Film Critic of The Oregonian)
“Why would I not know the context? I am the context.”
Told in a non linear and broken narrative structure, We Need to Talk About Kevin stuns with stunning imagery and art house sensibilities. The film is punctuated with ongoing hues of blood red which are utterly captivating.
“You don’t look happy. Have I ever been?”
The film offers a haunting juxtaposition of anxiety and angst with lightness and bliss through its soundtrack of often optimistically folky and cheery tunes. One particularly perfect song is Washington Phillips’ “Mother’s Last Word To Her Son”. It frames the one scene throughout “Kevin” where a sense of emotion, whether it be fear, guilt, love or true realization finally overcomes the antagonist.
The gripping final scene from “We Need To Talk About Kevin” (OBVIOUS SPOILER)
Thanks to the King Bulletin, we have a nice listing of the musical gems from the film:
“Mule Skinner Blues” — Written by Jimmie Rodgers & George Vaughn, Performed by Lonnie Donegan
“Ham N Eggs” — Written by Lonnie Donegan, Performed by Lonnie Donegan
“Everyday” –Written by Buddy Holly & Norman Petty, Performed by Buddy Holly
“Nobody’s Child” –Words and Music by Coben/Foree, Performed by Lonnie Donegan
“In My Room” — Written by Wilson/Usher, Performed by The Beach Boys
“Mother’s Last Word To Her Son” — Words and Music by Washington Phillips, Performed by Washington Phillips
“Wwoooo” — Written and Performed by Rory Stewart Kinnear
“Last Christmas” — Written by George Michael (CA), Performed by Wham!
“Tephra” — Written by Helena Gough, Performed by Helena Gough
“Aquaculture” — Written by Jana Winderen, Performed by Jana Winderen
“Once In Royal David’s City” — Composed by Anonymous
“Christmas Wish” — Composed by Paul Fletcher, Patrick Sturrock, Marc Williams
“Greensleeves” — Performed by Matt Fletcher
“Bossa” — Written and Performed by Sean Hargreaves
“Ballad” — Written and Performed by Sean Hargreaves
“Happy Days — Cues” — Words and Music by Fox/Gimbell
“The Ambush” — Performed by Liu Fang
“Farewell To My Concubine” — Performed by Liu Fang
Film Critic Roger Ebert’s Review:
We Need to Talk about Kevin
BY ROGER EBERT / January 25, 2012
It must be something like this to have a nervous breakdown. We find ourselves inside the mind of a woman whose psychopathic son has driven her over the edge. This is not entirely his fault. We gather she didn’t want to get pregnant, isn’t sure why she’s married, is a mother who tries to mask hostility with superficial kindness. If she had her way, she would put her life on rewind and start all over again — maybe even as somebody else, since she’s not very fond of herself.
Directed by Lynne Ramsay, “We Need to Talk About Kevin” is fragments of time, jagged and confusing, lurching around inside her mind. The film moves without any pattern between past, present and who knows when. We cling to guidelines like the length of Tilda Swinton’s hair to figure out where we are. For much of the film, she lives with her husband, son and daughter in an expensive suburban home, and when we realize they’ve lived there for several years, we begin to wonder, how can four people occupy a home for over a decade and not accumulate anything? The shelves and tabletops are as barren as those in a display home. What kind of a kitchen has empty counters? These people live there, but they’ve never moved in.
The mistake would be to take the film apart and try to reconnect the pieces in chronological order. The wife and mother, Eva (Tilda Swinton), has been so overwhelmed by despair that her life exists in her mind all at the same time. There is no pattern. Nothing makes sense. She isn’t even really at the center of it; that position is occupied by her son, Kevin, who is an instinctive sadist with a gift for knowing exactly how to wound her, reject her, deceive her and make her soul bleed. Kevin does things to Eva in this movie that are so cruel that an evil demon seems to be regarding her from his eyes.
That the film works so brilliantly is a tribute in large part to the actors. Kevin is seen at three ages. As a baby and toddler, he is merely colicky, irritating and would try the patience of a saint. Between the ages of 6 and 8 years old, played by Jasper Newell, he is a clever little monster who glares at Eva hurtfully, soils his pants deliberately and drives her into such a fury that she breaks his arm. In any other movie, that would be child abuse. In this one, it is Kevin’s triumph.
As a teenager, Kevin (now played by Ezra Miller) has started to cruelly resemble his mother in profile and hairstyle. A demon seed. He is loving and affectionate with his father, Franklin (John C. Reilly), and has a way of making it clear that it’s a deliberate charade designed only to hurt Eva. Franklin himself lives in a state of demented decency, deceiving himself that his family is living acceptable lives. He’s positive, cheerful, disconnected; he always behaves as nicely as he can, and in doing so, suggests his profound cluelessness. Only the daughter, Celia (Ashley Gerasimovich), seems halfway normal.
An early scene shows Eva apparently participating in an orgy in a lake of blood. This turns out to be some sort of annual Italian tomato festival, but the image is disturbing. Eva apparently thought her early life was on the right track and tells her screaming baby boy she would frankly rather be back in Paris than changing his diaper. He can’t understand her, but don’t you suppose he understands her dislike? Apparently even before he began to talk, Kevin made a vow to punish Eva for her feelings.
In an ordinary movie, there would be scenes in classrooms, meetings with counselors, heart-to-heart discussions between the parents. Not here. They never talk about Kevin. I have the feeling that this film, by entering Eva’s mind, sees only what has been battering her down for 16 years. Ramsay regularly cuts to a scene where Eva is driving her car past flashing police lights toward the scene of some tragedy. Maybe everything else is intended to be a flashback, and the timeline begins when she finds out what Kevin did at his high school. Then she goes home. Does she ever.
Eva often looks like she’s in a state of shock. Her body can’t absorb more punishment. She is the wrong person in the wrong life with the wrong child. Is her husband as zoned out as he seems or is that only her perception? As a portrait of a deteriorating state of mind, “We Need to Talk About Kevin” is a masterful film. Swinton told me of a line in the script that wasn’t used, wisely, I believe. After you see the film, think about it. She asks Kevin why he didn’t kill her. His reply: “You don’t want to kill your audience.”