Directed by Lynne Ramsay
UK/ US, 2011
Lynne Ramsay’s bold adaptation of Lionel Shriver's 2003 best-selling novel of the same name “We Need to Talk About Kevin” was just named best film at the BFI London Film Festival.
It is not an easy watch and perhaps not for someone approaching childbirth for the first time as “We Need To Talk About Kevin” might just be the scariest film about parenting ever made. It's probably more something to be endured rather than enjoyed and once the credits roll most audiences will be breathing a sigh of relief, happy that it's over. Yet, I think it is one of the best movies I saw this year. It dramatise the before-and-after life of a woman whose son has carried out a slaughter in an American high school. The film has been given a cruel added resonance by this summer's real-life massacre of innocent teenagers in Norway.
Tilda Swinton plays Eva Khatchadourian, once a hip, city-loving travel writer, a woman seemingly full of passion for life. Then frustrated mother living in a big house in the suburbs, with her naive husband, played by John C. Reilly and increasingly malign and manipulative first-born child Kevin. Eventually a lonely woman struck numb by the realisation that she has reared a mass murderer. With Kevin locked up in prison, she becomes the target of anger, hatred and incrimination.
Eva is essentially passive. She calmly receives a savage slap in the face from one of the massacre victim's mothers, feels like she has to hide out amongst soup cans when she spots another bereaved parent in the supermarket and unprotestingly accepts broken eggs, another petty act of revenge, at the checkout or buckets of red paint thrown on her home and car. She grapples with her feelings of grief and responsibility. Did she ever love her son? And how much of what Kevin did was her fault?
Eva was never a perfect mother. Motherhood haven't come easily to this adventurous, fiercely independent, some might say selfish woman, especially when faced with an angry, baby. One of Ramsay’s most memorable sequences shows Eva pushing Kevin's pram alongside a ear-battering construction site so that the rattle of the jackhammers drowns out his screams and gives her a few brief seconds of peace. On the other occasion she quite frankly admits she'd rather be in Paris than sitting with him at that moment. As she's reflecting on her son formative years, throughout which she was convinced that there was something seriously wrong with him, she wonders whether her ambivalence towards motherhood, the weird displacement of pregnancy, could have ultimately affected Kevin's life. Eva is trying to cope with the sins of her son and the guilt of whether she should, or could, have done anything differently.
It's not spoiling anything to mention the massacre at the school - the audience, just like Eva knows something bad is going to happen and spends the film anxiously waiting for it. Wisely, Ramsay avoids showing the event in detail, instead delving deeply into Kevin's complex psychology and his twisted relationship with the family. However, this is not a film about a sociopath, more a tale of how a mother copes with this terrible legacy. Swinton gives us a lot of insight into the character's mounting horror as she realizes exactly the kind of monster she's given birth to.
Lynne Ramsay' s particularly bold use of red and music makes this story even more disturbing. Extremely good movie. The award was fully deserved.