Movie Review: “We Need to Talk About Kevin”

Written by Brent Holmes February 26, 2012

Mistah Kurtz…he’s your son.

There are so many brilliant scenes in We Need to Talk About Kevin. It is perhaps one of the most alienating films of the year. From no-place environments to bright red tints and filters, to shots of paint or food being strangely prepared and consumed, director Lynne Ramsay presents a bleak and hostile world that raises many questions but has no answers.

Based off of Lionel Shriver’s novel of the same name. We Need to Talk About Kevin follow Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton) as she tries to understand her son, Kevin’s (Ezra Miller) slaughter of his high school classmates. The film bounces incessantly between several different points in her life: her marriage to Franklin (John C. Reilly) and birth of their first child, Kevin’s childhood, Kevin’s teenage years, and Eva’s life after the massacre.

Kevin as a child seems to be the new Damian Thorn. Played by Rocky Duer as infant Kevin, he does nothing his mother tells him, and seems to try and deliberately torment her. Her husband, Franklin, doesn’t believe Eva’s suspicions of Kevin. Kevin plays him quite easily, acting excited and happy around him while glaring at his mother whenever his dad is not looking.

There is a kind of artistic mirroring of Kevin’s resistance to Eva and the film’s resistance to the viewer. For the first part of the film, sequences involve three or four separate timelines being presented in the span of a minute, making it impossible to focus during the first half. Then the film adopts taking a narrative route, but leaves key scenes out.Kevin, likewise, will be quiet and unresponsive in one scene and then talkative and aggressive the next.

The film’s attempt to alienate the viewer goes so far as to directly criticize the audience with Kevin proclaiming to the camera in one scene, “What are all you doing right now but watching me? You don’t think they’d have changed the channel by now if all I did was get an A in geometry.” The lens of the camera is meant to be on us as much as it is on Eva.

However, the film says one too many mixed messages about its main character. We are supposed to feel empathy for Eva, a woman living in an unbelievably hostile world after her son, Kevin, massacres students at his school (as well as his father and younger sister). Eva’s life after that is filled with consistent injustice: there is an implied lawsuit against her, mothers in the community abuse her publicly, her house and car are vandalized, and her coworkers and neighbours treat her like a walking spectacle—one of her male coworkers reacts horribly to her rejection of his advances saying that nobody else would want her after what Kevin did.

Yet at the same time, Eva doesn’t seem to be able to discipline Kevin: he swears while he is still wearing diapers, tricks his mother into putting viruses onto her computer, and she simply leaves when she walks in on him masturbating. Eva is frequently shown drinking a glass of wine after long days of dealing with Kevin, seeming to be incapable of taking action—to the point where her “special” room still has Kevin’s ink-gunned graffiti across its walls.

Is there something wrong with Eva’s parenting style or is Kevin just simply born evil? The film doesn’t provide enough information to answer these questions, it’s a very postmodern approach but at the same time, this seems to run against some of the points Ramsay tries to make. The group of hateful mothers are well contrasted with a compassionate young boy who was crippled by Kevin’s attack and sincerely tries to reach out to Eva—this scene is the sole moment of hope in the film’s two hour duration, and it is downplayed by an approach that almost suggests that Eva is responsible for her son’s actions.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is a smart film that is just as difficult to watch as it is to discuss. It is a very dark film at times cross-cutting between scenes in order to create macabre humour. Kevin is our Joker, our Captain Kurtz, presented in the most realistic sense with us as the helpless mother. Our watching him is almost an affirmation of his actions. Why we watch Kevin is one of the most interesting questions the film poses, but  like so many of the other questions raised by this film, does not answer.

My Rating 9/10

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About Brent Holmes

Brent Holmes is a Film Studies and English Major attending Huron University College at the University of Western Ontario where he is working towards a PhD in Film Studies. He currently writes for We Eat Films and The Western Gazette (on the latter, he serves as Arts & Life editor).

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