Based on the novel by Lionel Shriver, We Need to Talk About Kevin is the story of a woman reflecting on her life as a mother to a son that has killed a bunch of kids in school. Directed by Lynne Ramsay and adapted to script by Ramsay and Rory Stewart Kinnear, the film explores a woman’s relationship with her son and how she feels responsible for what had happened. Starring Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ashley Gerasimovich, and Ezra Miller. We Need to Talk About Kevin is a harrowing yet hypnotic drama from Lynne Ramsay.
Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton) meets a man named Franklin (John C. Reilly) as the two get married and have a child name Kevin (Rocky Duer). However, motherhood doesn’t become exciting as she has to endure Kevin’s cries and wails where by the time he’s six (Jasper Newell). He still wears a diaper and refuses to talk as Franklin is convinced he’s just a good kid still taking his time as Eva remains unsure why he’s so hostile towards her. After the arrival of a new young sibling in Celia (Ashley Gerasimovich), Kevin becomes more hostile towards his mother as he becomes a gifted archer in his teens (Ezra Miller). Eva struggles to bond with Kevin as his behavior darkens when a series of small incidents happen leading to a school massacre. For Eva, she wonders about what did she do for all of this to happen.
What happens when a mother learns that the child she’s given birth to would become a total psychopath? That’s what the film asks as it’s all about a mother trying to understand what role did she play into raising her son and why he did what he did. Yet, the film is told via flashback as this woman is struggling to return to a normal life as she still has to endure the ire of families whose children had been killed by her. She also has to visit her son who is about to go to prison after being in juvenile hall for a few years as she wonders why did he do it? The results are much more ambiguous that leaves more questions than answers while if there are any answers. It wouldn’t really do anything but raise more questions.
Lynne Ramsay and co-screenwriter Rory Stewart Kinnear create a story where the narrative shifts back and forth in a somewhat non-linear manner as it’s based on Eva’s memory of her life and how it all fell apart. Eva is a very interesting woman for the way she started off as this travel agent who later becomes an author. When she becomes pregnant with Kevin, she is not sure what to think of it as she reacts quite detached to Kevin’s arrival which may be a cause for Kevin’s hostility towards her. Still, that doesn’t give enough ideas about why Kevin is the way he is as Ramsay and Kinnear continue to remain ambiguous about his persona as it’s all focused on the mother.
Then there’s Franklin who isn’t as developed as Eva nor Kevin yet he is just as interesting for the way he reacts to what is happening though he is sort of a clueless character. Still, he’s someone whom Kevin seems to warm up to while his presence seems to bring a sense of peacefulness to what is happening despite Kevin’s dark persona. The script’s approach to characterization and unconventional plotting makes it very entrancing to the way the story is told. Notably as it doesn’t try to use any kind of exposition or wanting to give any explanations for the actions that the characters do as it’s a script that is smart and complex for its theme on guilt.
Ramsay’s direction is truly startling in the way she chooses to present the film as it starts off with this lingering image of a sliding door opened and then cuts to a slow-motion scene of La Tomatina in Spain. While this scene shows what Eva’s life is like at the time, it is mixed with unsettling sounds of noise and dialogue that seems to be in a very different place. There is a lot of style to the way Ramsay chooses to present her film while her framing and directing the actors in a scene is very engaging. While there are still some hand-held shots in the film, there’s a lot more steady shots and emphasis to have the camera move on dolly tracks to soak in the environment Eva and Kevin live in.
Since the film is shot largely in Stamford, Connecticut, there is a look that is American but also has a European feel to it in terms of the way Ramsay chooses to tell the story. Since the film has a narrative that shifts back and forth from past to present, it allows Ramsay to create montages of Eva’s memory in parallel to what she’s dealing with in the present. One of Ramsay’s gifts as a director is creating a mood of what is happening from the musical choices she uses to create something that seems off-kilter but also plays up to the dark ambiguity. There’s also a lot of dark humor for the way Kevin does things to Eva to make the film not seem as dramatic as it’s intended. The overall work Ramsay does with this film is astonishing as she truly creates a chilling film about a mother’s guilt.
Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey does a brilliant job with the cinematography from the very colorful yet lush look of the daytime scenes at the suburban home that Eva and her family lives in to more stylish yet entrancing look of some of the nighttime scenes when Eva is driving in her car. Editor Joe Bini does a fantastic job with the editing in utilizing jump-cuts for some stylistic moments in the film as well as montages to create scenes of Eva’s recollection of what she is thinking about.
Production designer Judy Becker, along with set decorator Heather Loeffler and art director Charles Kulsziski, does excellent work with the set pieces creating including the rooms of the big house Eva and her family lives to play up their own personalities while Kevin‘s room is very sparse and cold. Costume designer Catherine George does a wonderful job with costumes from the long dresses that Eva wears in the past to more business-like clothing later in the film to emphasize her mood. Sound designer Paul Davies does a spectacular job with the sound design to create texture and moods that surrounds the film that are often intimate and sparse while also be unsettling at times due to Eva’s own recollections of what she is going through.
The film’s score by Jonny Greenwood is amazing for the mood he creates in the music that ranges from ambient pieces to chaotic orchestral material that includes these brooding harp melodies that just heightens the dark mood of the film. The film’s soundtrack is wide mix of music playing up to its differing moods from country and blues-driven music pieces by Lonnie Donegan and Washington Phillips to rock and pop music from acts like Buddy Holly, the Beach Boys, and Wham!. Other cuts include pieces by co-screenwriter Rory Stewart Kinnear, Helena Gough, Matt Fletcher, Jana Winderen, Sean Hargreaves, and Liu Fang that range from classical to ambient music as the overall music in the film is superb.
The casting by Billy Hopkins is terrific for the ensemble that is assembled as it includes small but notable performances from Siobhan Fallon-Hogan as Eva’s travel agency boss and Alex Manette as a co-worker named Colin. Ashley Gerasimovich is very good as Kevin’s little sister Celia while John C. Reilly is wonderful as Kevin’s father Franklin who tries to understand Eva’s behavior while being unaware of Kevin’s dark behavior. For the roles of Kevin, there’s Rocky Duer as the baby Kevin while Jasper Newell is great as the 6-8 year old Kevin who spouts out curse words and do all sorts of bad things bringing a bit of dark humor to the film.
Ezra Miller is brilliant in a brooding yet enthralling performance as Kevin from the way he just glares at everyone to how he can pull a façade where he makes his dad believe he’s a good kid. Miller’s performance is very complex to what he does for Kevin as there’s a kid who is very smart but also determined to play mind games as it’s remarkable work for the young actor. Finally, there’s Tilda Swinton in a magnificent performance as Eva. Swinton’s performance is truly mesmerizing as a woman trying to connect with her son while trying to find understand what role she played in doing what he did. It’s a very tricky role where someone could go overboard but the sense of restraint and humility Swinton brings is very masterful for what is needed as it’s Swinton at her best.
We Need to Talk About Kevin is a tremendous yet very dark film from Lynne Ramsay featuring top-notch performances from Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller. While it’s a film that will frustrate viewers who want answers or some kind of conventional story. It’s unconventional approach to storytelling and hypnotic direction does give the film a very slight edge into its exploration of death, guilt, and regret. For fans of Lynne Ramsay, it’s a welcome return following a nine-year hiatus as she proves that she is one of the best filmmakers working today. In the end, We Need to Talk About Kevin is an outstanding film from Lynne Ramsay.
Lynne Ramsay Films: Ratcatcher - Morvern Callar - You Were Never Really Here
Related: Auteurs #6: Lynne Ramsay
Related: Auteurs #6: Lynne Ramsay
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