You’ll need to talk about saving up for therapy after this movie.
This is my review of We Need to Talk about Kevin!
Based on the 2003 novel by Lionel Shriver, We Need to Talk about Kevin chronicles the miserable existence of Eva Khatchadourian, the mother of the troubled titular character Kevin, the culprit of a heinous school massacre.
My good friend and fellow blogger Pink Haired Papist asked me to take a look at this film and in some ways, I’m glad that I did. In other ways, I wish that I hadn’t.
There’s a term in literature and cinema called “Show, Don’t Tell.” Basically it’s when you allow the reader/audience to experience the story through the actions of the characters and (in the case of film) the visuals instead of long-winded expositional spiels. Within the first ten minutes of the film, we learn everything we need to know about Eva’s desperate conditions and it is all done without one word of expositional dialogue.
Speaking of Eva, Tilda Swinton broke my heart with her meek and vulnerable performance as a former travel writer turned domesticated housewife who found herself at the mercy of her vicious son and must now endure the hostility of those who lost their children in the massacre Kevin caused. Her expressive face and de-glamorized appearance spell out the gravity of her despairing situation. I give a lot of credit to both Lionel Shriver and director Lynne Ramsay for telling this story from the perspective of the perpetrator’s mother, given that this can be a risky move when telling a narrative that involves the killing of minors. The subject matter is handled with the sensitivity and grace needed for this kind of story.
Something that I really appreciate is that the movie allows Eva to have moments of good happen to her. In the opening, we see that her rundown house has been vandalized. She then goes to apply for a job at a dingy travel agency. The employees know that she is the mother of the boy who murdered his classmates, so they greet her with judgmental glances. A novice storyteller would have had Eva turned down for the job to show how bad her life is and doing this would give the sense that there is no trust in the audience’s ability to figure that out, but the tactful script has her hired by the agency instead. Her pitiful house, mediocre car and the vandalism alone tell us that Eva suffers daily, so a small victory like being hired gives the audience a brief reprieve from the misery. It also makes the viewer relieved that for once, something good has happened, hence allowing them to step into the shoes of our main character. In the very next scene, Eva is confronted and slapped by a mother whose child was killed by Kevin. Seconds later, a man approaches Eva and offers to call the police to report the mother’s assault, an offer that Eva declines. I really like that not all the townspeople are despicable. Yes, mob mentality can happen in any neighborhood, but there are logical, good-natured people out there and I applaud the movie for recognizing this fact.
Yes, we do need to talk about Kevin; specifically about Ezra Miller, the guy who plays Kevin. No, he does not give a bad performance. Rather, while he does certainly look the part of a sociopathic teenager, he doesn’t have much to work with. Honestly, I think Jasper Newell, the boy who brilliantly plays Kevin as a child has a lot more to do than Miller does. Given that he is the title character, I feel that Ezra Miller’s role was underwritten.
If the Revenant is visually brutal, then We Need to Talk about Kevin is emotionally brutal. This is not a pleasant movie. The scenes that chronicle the toxic relationship between Eva and Kevin are painful to watch. When Eva comes home to [SPOILER] find her husband and young daughter dead, I had to look away.
I never want to deter anyone from watching a fantastic film, but as the old adage goes, “Knowledge is power.” I strongly recommend looking up We Need to Talk about Kevin’s IMDB page and clicking on the Parental Guide segment, which gives a detailed rundown of the film’s content. If you know what you’re in for, you can decide for yourself if this is a cinematic journey you want to embark on.
We Need to Talk about Kevin is a draining but exceptionally crafted film. Tilda Swinton’s wounded performance is Oscar-worthy, the cinematography and editing are some of the best I’ve seen in a while, and the handling of dark topics such as a dysfunctional mother-son relationship and a school massacre is commendable.
By the way, if you like Catholicism, feminism and wine, be sure to check out my friend Pink Haired Papist’s blog at http://pinkhairedpapist.blogspot.com/
Saint Rita of Cascia, pray for us.