We Need to Talk About Kevin


Written by Natasha Hoare
16 Sunday 16th October 2011

What makes We Need To Talk About Kevin a must see is the incredibly poetic rendering of the book onto screen by director Lynne Ramsay, and the dead cert Oscar nomination-earning performance by one of the greatest actresses of our time, Tilda Swinton. Her angular features dominate the film. Flesh stretched tight over her cheekbones as a haunted mother, young, alive and attractive as a lover, her versatility is breath taking. Each muscular twitch and contraction of her pupils conveys the horror stirring within her as she lives with what has happened. These tics replace the inner monologue that brought us so close to Eva in Lionel Shriver’s novel, and the films achievement is to honour that closeness without clunky voiceovers.

The colour red seeps through the fabric of this film. From the off we are plunged into the Tomatina festival of tomato hurling, squishing and tearing. Bodies writhe in a sea of pulpy red flesh and Eva wallows in the exoticism and eroticism. In this first opulent moment the scene is set for the disastrous chain of events, broken relationships, missed moments and simmering domestic violence that will eventually engulf a whole community. Her house is later splattered with red paint and stains her hands, which she claws at – shadows of Lady Macbeth – throughout the film. Red lights sweep over the action and Eva gulps red wine like it will expunge the guilt.

This is not a cuddly movie. Eva is a mother who struggles to love a profoundly difficult and antisocial Kevin who grows up with the sole mission of tormenting her at every possible moment. After an indifferent pregnancy she has a terrible birth. As a baby he cries incessantly; Eva’s mind numbing exhaustion is brilliantly shown in a scene where she stops his pram near a pneumatic drill and revels in the industrial sound blocking out her infant’s screams. Even at this early stage she is locked into a claustrophobic relationship with Kevin – her husband picks the baby up without provoking the howls of rage that she does, and never believes her tales of his campaign against her. Kevin destroys Eva’s carefully papered room, mulches food into every available surface, torments his baby sister, allows her to drink bleach, puts her guinea pig in the garbage disposal and (perhaps worst of all) interrupts his parents mid-blowjob - having kids is murder for your love life…

Why does Kevin calmly assassinate his fellow students? To punish his mother? In protest? Because he is evil? Because his mother damaged him as a child? The age-old questions of nature vs nurture are played out in an excruciating series of run-ins between mother and son.  The film works backwards temporarily, Kevin’s attack on his fellow students frames the following action, so it is with a sense of impending doom that we follow the action, watching and analysing Eva’s treatment of her child for the signs of abuse, or anything that might explain Kevin’s descent into mass murder. Swinton’s serpentine face frames large liquid eyes dulled by the pain of her history and loom emptily from the screen dumbly asking why it all happened as it did. At one moment abuse does rear its head - Eva flings the 8 year-old Kevin to the floor in rage, breaking his arm, when he deliberately soils his nappy for the second time. It is from this moment that they are locked in a secret pact - Kevin does not tell his father or the hospital what happened, instead saying he fell off the changing table.

As an exotic travel writer the film suggests that Eva’s life has hereto been in the service of herself and of the sensual. Slowly, her most treasured freedoms are stripped away from her, sacrificed at the altar of motherhood. Her New York loft is swapped for a cavernous home in the suburbs – the emptiness of this domestic space pointing to the emptiness of her heart, her boredom and her worrying lack of maternal feelings toward her monstrous son. Is consumerism to blame? Kevin states ‘things have got so bad even the people on TV are watching people on TV’, Eva’s hides from her son’s victim’s mother in the supermarket, her strained face framed by a wall of Warholian tins of Campbell’s Soup.

Touches of surrealism and a hauntingly upbeat soundtrack combine to create an unreal feel to the movie.  Moments of comedy relieve the tension – most notably the moment when Christian door-to-door visitors pitch up to ask if she knows where she is going after her death ‘oh yes’ she replies brightly ‘I’m going straight to hell’. It’s a brilliantly timed joke, and one of many perfect set pieces that punctuate the film. Dark, visually luxurious, stunningly acted and raising fascinating questions about contemporary culture’s pedalling of video games, ultra-violence and selfish individualism this is a triumphant piece of filmmaking. 

We Need To Talk About Kevin is out in cinemas nationwide this Friday (21st October)

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