What a truly naughty boy Kevin is. If you are parents, he is your worst nightmare; he is mean, vicious, willful, uncommunicative, and, possibly, psychopathic. Since his birth, he has been tormenting his mother, and now he has committed an atrocious incident to plunge his mother into the situation far worse than ever. Folks, if you have ever think your son is very naughty, here is the example to remind you that your son is not so evil at all compared to this bad seed.
But was he a bad seed from the beginning? Can we say that his mother was at least partially responsible for that terrible incident just because she failed to direct her son to a right way? These questions are kept being asked in the devastated mind of his mother in “We Need to Talk about Kevin”, a dark, relentless film which feverishly looks around the fragmented memories inside her while looking at her torturous struggle to deal with the aftermath of an irreversible tragedy in her shattered life.
Although almost two years have passed since that tragedy at her son’s high school, Eva Khatchadourian(Tilda Swinton) has not yet completely recovered from its aftershock. Her face looks stiff, gaunt, and exhausted; it seems that she heavily depends on alcohol and medications for going through her hard daily life. There is no one to support or console her, and she lives alone in a small shabby house to which she moved from a big suburban house she and her family lived. And the people at the town still remember who she is; on one morning, she finds that somebody threw red paint on her car and the front of her house. When she comes across the mother of one of the victims after she gets fortunately hired, she is slapped hard just because she looks happy.
You may wonder why she does not leave the town. Is her decision a part of her self-immolation for dealing with growing guilt? It seems so, because her mind is endlessly tortured by not only the present but also the past, as reflected by the fragmented narrative structure of the story which freely moves back and forth between the present and the past. The director Lynne Ramsay, who adapted Lionel Shriver’s novel with Rory Steward Kinnear, provides the feeling of agitated mind through the constant use of red color on the screen, and there is a striking opening sequence where Eva is covered with the red juice of tomatoes along with the crowd at the Tomatina festival in Spain.
That was when she was fallen in love with her husband while she was working as a well-known travel guide writer. Not long after she married Franklin(John C. Reilly), she gave birth to her son Kevin, and that was how her hell started. Maybe she was not the best mom in the world, she did as much as she could for her son, but she kept being frustrated. She tried to communicate with Kevin, he did not respond to her much, and he looked like very determined to annoy and hurt his mother in every way available to him, including soiling his diaper(he kept wearing it even when he was no longer a baby, by the way).
Did he sense that his mother never wanted to have him? Or was he just born to be cruel to his mother? The movie does not give easy answers to the difficult questions it digs out of the story, but one thing is certain; as Kevin, played by Jasper Newell when he is a little boy and then played by Ezra Miller when he becomes a teenager, grows up, he becomes more fiendish and manipulative than ever. While successfully keeping his mother annoyed and exasperated all the time except a few ‘open’ moments, he somehow makes his father believe that his son is a good kid with problems. Franklin is so oblivious to a growing problem in front of his eyes that he misguidingly supports his son’s interest in archery. Even when his little daughter(Ashley Gerasimovich), a lovely girl who has been a consoling light in Eva’s stressful daily life at home, gets a serious injury possibly because of Kevin, Franklin is too generous to his son while trying to remind him of what happened to his little sister. It’s strange, but haven’t we heard of the parents who are sometime unbelievably blind to the flaws of their children?
Franklin’s unwise responses to Kevin may look a little too unrealistic, but what we see in the film may be a distorted reality reflected and fueled by the guilt and confusion in Eva’s tumultuous state of mind. The movie feels barren even when everything except Kevin seems to be all right at Eva and her family’s house, which looks comfortable at first but increasingly feels cold and isolated as we observe more sadistic behaviors of Kevin. While the songs played in the soundtrack add considerable degrees of black humor to Eva’s nightmarish circumstance, the quiet lack of communication between Eva and her incarcerated son is painful to look.
The narrative structure of the movie is messy on the surface, but the movie does not lose our attention thanks to Ramsey’s excellent direction and Tilda Swinton’s harrowing performance. Swinton has always been convincing in her films, and she is terrific in this movie as an unfortunate woman who happens to be stuck with her bad seed while not hesitating to show flaws inside her character. Eva would have chosen to continue her career without having a family if she had been able to choose, and that aspect of hers cannot be hidden even when she tries to be a kind mother to her young son.
John C. Reilly gets a basically thankless job as Eva’s husband, but he nicely supports Swinton’s performance while playing his character as a gullible guy who tries to look like everything is fine. With spiteful stare and vicious attitude, Jasper Newell and Ezra Miller are so effective and consistent as their bad son that you can understand why Eva seems to be only one who sees the evil inside him. Kevin is one hell of obnoxious boy you want to strangle within a minute, but you also know where his mean pleasure comes from. Miller has a particularly chilling moment when Kevin has just finished his atrocity at the school. When no one remains unharmed in his sight, he takes a bow as a finishing touch, but to whom? You will not probably need lots of time to get the answer for that question.
“We Need to Talk About Kevin” is a difficult film to watch because of its unflinching look at its dark, uncomfortable subject, but it is also an emotionally devastating movie you cannot easily forget after watching it. While the irony of the title is that nobody in the film gets any chance to talk seriously about its title character, the last scene implies that there may be such a chance someday – but it is already too late to change anything in Eva’s life, which will always be burdened by a cross named Kevin.