"How would I not know the context? I am the context."
A PSA for reluctant mothers everywhere, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN is a familial drama that's as scary as anything you'll see in theaters for a long, long time. I've been told that having children is a unnerving experience. You and another have created a person, just think about that. But, what if the child you brought into this world wasn't good? Worse than bad, evil. At its barest, KEVIN is a story about what makes us human: life and love; emotion and loss. KEVIN has all of that, and so much more.
Tilda Swinton is a unique woman. Never one to shy away from eccentric roles, Swinton plays it mostly straight here as Eva, a successful travel writer. We're introduced to her in the midst of La Tomatina: the famous festival in the Valencian town of Buñol, where the participants hurl tomatoes at one another. Eva is blanketed in red guts; smeared on her face is a look of pure joy, euphoria. Blended with the cheers of the crowd, faint screams are heard, like agonized whispers.
Eva's settled in New York City, elated in her independence. It seems to be abruptly interrupted by Franklin Katchadourian (John C. Reilly). Their romance is passionate, and an unexpected pregnancy results in an unwanted son, Kevin. From the onset, it's evident that Eva is uncomfortable in her new role. Her newborn is an incessant crier, so much so that she seeks the solace of jackhammers to drown him out. At the behest of Franklin, the family move from their apartment in the city into a suburban neighborhood in Connecticut.
Throughout, the film jumps back-and-forth between timelines; a misleading, and effective decision. We see Eva in different points of her life: she playing with her son, rolling a ball, or attempting to teach him mathematics. Later, she leaves a job interview, sees an old acquaintance and immediately gets slapped in the face. The reason we find out later. To say Kevin is a difficult child is like saying water is wet. He wears diapers until he's well past his prime, defecating on himself just to spite his mother. In a moment of weakness (or is it strength?), she hurls her offspring against a wall, breaking his arm. To worsen Eva's guilt, Kevin takes the blame, telling his father that the injury's fault falls on his own diminutive shoulders.
To even out Eva's steadily declining emotional state, the Katchadourians eventually have another child, Celia. She is everything Kevin is not: tranquil, conventional, and most importantly, adored by her mother. Having a sister only seems to aggravate the situation. Kevin constantly picks on his sibling, calling her names, getting her to do his bidding. A culmination of sorts occurs when Celia suffers an horrific "accident" involving an eyeball and corrosive cleaning fluid. Eva's constant pleas to Franklin of Kevin's worsening state only falls on deaf ears. (Aside from fits of minor anarchy) Kevin finally finds interest in something, archery. A set is first given to him by Franklin, and it is the only thing that seems to alleviate his more malevolent misdeeds.
Lynne Ramsay, who hasn't directed a film since 2002's MOVERN CALLAR, is spectacular behind the camera. She was linked to helm the conversion of Alice Sebold's THE LOVELY BONES, before leaving the production due to disagreements concerning the script. Peter Jackson ended up with the job, and the audiences suffered for the substitution. With KEVIN, Ramsay's array of talents are on full display. She formidably captures a loneliness that radiates from every character and setting. In an astute decision, Ramsay refuses to depict any violence onscreen, instead allowing the imagination to take hold of the considerable visuals involved. Swinton herself, hauntingly floats through every scene like only she can. It's impossible to teach the looks that plaster her face. She is blessed with both uncanny ability and the perfect physical traits to succeed in such a manner.
Ezra Miller plays Kevin as his older version. His affection for transgressions and uncomfortably tight t-shirts is only matched by his emotional need to best his mother. Miller's deprecating matter is toxic, and his complete lack of empathy befits a sociopathic nature. When Kevin is younger, he's plagued by a cold. The virus batters down the barriers that have surrounded him. He nuzzles into Eva while in bed, prompting her to read a bedtime story. She is as shocked as we are. This ever so brief reprieve is heart wrenching, as the next morning the sickness and warmth that came with it, has melted away, leaving us once more with the unwelcoming identity that inhabits.
I hope you've all stayed away from the spoilers from this film, as the ending is one of the most shocking and perfect in recent memory; one that's sure to stay with you for a considerable amount of time. It's never explained what makes Kevin so monstrous. It's entirely likely that he's simply a bad seed; a gross miscalculation on the genetic level. Or perhaps, even more tragically, Kevin's behavior is caused by his mother's lack of compassion; an absolute loathing for her own flesh and blood.