I was literally shaking upon exiting the theater after having seen “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” Was it the powerfully disturbing subject matter or the masterful performance by Tilda Swinton that caused it? I’m still not certain.
In this fascinating piece of filmmaking, Swinton plays a mother (Eva) who desperately attempts to bond, relate and love her son, Kevin (played respectively by Rock Duer, Jasper Newell and Ezra Miller). The battle begins at conception and continues after he becomes a mass murderer. Everything that happens in between is presented in rapid flashbacks (Swinton’s coiffures are key in following the sequence of events).
From the onset, Eva believes she has given birth to a monster. Kevin’s incessant wailing, refusal to talk, continuing to wear diapers until the age of 6 and tormenting his little sister (to the point of putting out her eye) have little effect on husband Franklin (John C. Reilly). As Kevin develops into a full-blown, manipulative psychopath, Eva’s fears intensify. Meanwhile, Franklin buys the kid a bow and arrow. They never talk about Kevin.
After the massacre, Eva chooses to remain in the town where it occurred. It almost seems an act of penance on her part for having brought Kevin into this world. Everyone hates her. She endures violent confrontations by the victims’ parents, paint being thrown on her house and car and venomous verbal attacks. Eva retreats from reacting ... it’s her cross to bear.
Director Lynne Ramsay (“Ratcatcher”) pulls out all the stops, creating textured visuals to intensify the horror. She employs the color red in almost every shot. In an opening sequence, Eva is participating in Spain’s La Tomatina tomato tossing festival. It’s so trippy to behold, you can’t believe what you’re seeing. Red paint, red wine, red jam, red soup cans most certainly represent the blood she believes to have on her hands.
“We Need to Talk About Kevin” is a film that feels so real, it hurts to watch. At times, I felt myself squirming at what was playing out on screen. The magnificent Academy Award winner Swinton (“Michael Clayton”) is overwhelmingly responsible for elevating this film to greatness. Her portrayal of a tortured soul is the best performance I’ve seen in ages.
“We Need to Talk About Kevin” is a film that doesn’t preach, judge or give answers. It’s a work of art.
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