Originally, I didn’t plan on writing a review of this film. For one thing, if you’ve even heard of it then you’re a step ahead of most people (and I’m not saying that in a pretentious way, it’s just the truth), so the likelihood of drumming up any interest in the film is relatively small. For another thing, I saw it over ten days ago and I was beginning to feel that the moment had passed. And then a snow day happened, and I’m stuck inside a warm condo listening to some music, and the moment just seemed right. I also realized just how much I was thinking about this movie.
So, because I have written a few funnier (well, at least attempting to be funny) mass-appeal posts recently, allow me to get some thoughts out about this film.
We Need to Talk About Kevin is the most depressing film of the year. A short synopsis indicates as much: “The mother of a teenage boy who went on a high-school killing spree tries to deal with her grief—and feelings of responsibility for her child's actions.” Half of the story plays out in the present, after the school shooting occurs; we see Eva (played wonderfully as always by Tilda Swinton) go through the struggles of her daily life, as a social pariah of the highest magnitude, her guilt guiding every step she takes. The other half is the relationship of Eva and Kevin, told through flashbacks, with scenes of Kevin’s birth through his childhood and adolescence all painting a picture of how such a tragedy could have occurred.
There’s a lot to talk about regarding Kevin. At the beginning of the film, we see Eva as a young woman at a festival taking place in Bunol, Spain, called the “La Tomatina” festival, where tomatoes are thrown in what is apparently one of the biggest food fights in the world (all of this info courtesy of Google and not the film itself). Eva is covered in tomato remnants and crowd surfing, and although she seems to be in a euphoric state, the ominous music suggests that the red substance all over her is a sign of the blood that Eva will have on her hands for the rest of the film.
Director Lynne Ramsay, in what I do not hesitate to call one of the three greatest directorial efforts of the year, is at her best in these dreamlike moments. Seeing the relationship play out between Eva and Kevin does not tell the story as well these scenes of pseudo-psychological horror. There is one scene, also near the beginning, in which some trick-or-treaters come to Eva’s house. Eva doesn’t have any candy to give them, and in her fragile state she cowers in the corner of her living room, while the children’s shadows come through the moonlight in the window, and appear to be arms strangling Eva.
One of the central ideas of the film is that Kevin and Eva have a terrible relationship even though they are very similar people. Eva tries to be a good mother to Kevin, but deep down they both know that there is a hate inside of her that runs as deep as his does. Thus, they share contempt for one another because they both see themselves reflected in the other person. The only difference is that Kevin doesn’t try to hide or deny it, while Eva does, even to herself. However, there is still an odd bond between the two, and as the story plays out we see this strange connection take various shapes and forms.
It’s not a perfect film by any stretch. The casting of John C. Reilly as Eva’s husband, Franklin, was an odd choice, and he came off as an oblivious doofus while the story mandates that the character is intentionally turning a blind eye to the dark side of Kevin. Additionally, the teenage Kevin is played by Ezra Miller, who at points shows flashes of brilliance and other times was a little too brooding for the character’s own good.
I’m not a parent, but I can only imagine that this film accentuates perfectly what it is like for a parent to have a child that they understand so deeply, yet still massively fail to reach them or form any sort of attachment. That, to me, is the most depressing aspect of the film, and Lynne Ramsay’s use of visuals to remind us of the guilt that Eva carries around because of this is nothing short of masterful, and the chief reason that this film has lingered for so long in my mind. 8/10.