We Need to Talk About Kevin (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
31May/120

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2012)

Though it was given a wide release in 2012, We Need to Talk About Kevin is another one of the seemingly inexhaustible 2011 films about the coming Armageddon.  We've seen Americana, the working class, and even the whole planet get destroyed in the last year.  This go-around paints the family unit as something which is on the verge of total implosion.  The problem is the difficulties this family faces are so unique to their seemingly demon-infested son that it's hard to feel much of anything once the curtains go up.

Emptiness, yes, but it didn't really come with it a sense of empathy or sadness around the events of the film.  Since We Need to Talk About Kevin mines school shootings for the brunt of its emotional arc my lack of emotion shouldn't really have occurred.  Those events are so pointless and tragic that I understand how a lot of art fails to really capture the feeling of helplessness which comes around the deaths of so many young ones.  The real sadness here is that the film comes so close to understanding the pain of going on from the perspective of the assailant's family, but then gets bogged down in explaining itself.

The first hour of the film is amazing in its ability to completely dislodge our normal sense of perception.  Space and time mean nothing to Eva (Tilda Swinton), the scream of a young child could bring her back to a memory of sitting by the side of the road or partaking in a hellish orgy.  That orgy, the second thing we see in the film after some table setting against soft, billowy curtains, recalls Woodstock '99 and the kind of danger Eva seems to enjoy.  From that point on there is little sense of control over audio or video with the only anchoring point coming from what appear to be present day scenes of Eva trying to get a job and clean paint off of her home.

Unfortunately the effectiveness of this narrative dislodging, which is effectively in the Gaspar Noe school of nauseating direction, shines some light onto its weaknesses as a visual narrative at this point.  The nightmare that is Eva's life will continue on in images which provide effective, if unnecessary, clues on to what happened to this community and to Eva.  But it comes with it an over reliance on the color red, a motif recurring so often I have to wonder if the budget came with it an abundance of red paint.

A touch might have been effective, but the film drowns it's warning signs in red.  Red paint is splattered over the home, ketchup is drenched over all the food, Eva stands in front of a display of tomato soup, and in one queasily effective moment when teenage Kevin (Ezra Miller) puts far too much raspberry jam on a sandwich.  But for every effective moment of disgust there are another four or five scenes to remind us, yes, this woman feels as though she has thoroughly stained her life.  The repetition continues on with the three different moments Eva washes blood off of her hands.  I don't mind the bluntness, but nothing is done to creatively spice up the many moments of guilt.

That symbolic bluntness goes into the narrative as well.  Eva's private tortures and perpetual nightmare give way, at about the half-way mark, to a standard narrative explaining why Kevin is the monster he is.  This is where the film completely failed for me.  Up until that point I was with the disconnected scenes and imagery, heavy handed though it was, but Kevin is such an unrepentant monster that the reality brought by the guilty disconnection is completely squashed.  For instance, in a scene packed with grim portent, his little sister is playing with a little hamster and it takes all of two minutes of screen-time to lead the cute thing to it's logical housed with a psychopath conclusion.

Eva's development is handled considerably better and responds to the torment of her demonic son in a poor way.  She breaks his arm after he defecates his diaper as a show of defiance when he is six.  Kevin's action stretches credulity as he is little more than a young monster, but she shows a realistic response in not quite molding but sharpening the danger he already was.  It also doesn't hurt that Eva is played perfectly by Swinton, who is head and shoulders the best actress working today.  Swinton plays each moment with the perfect mix of shame, anger, and a reluctant love.  The actors playing Kevin (Miller as a teenager, Jasper Newell as a child, and Rocky Duer as an infant) are also superb if one-dimensional, keeping in-line with the way Kevin is written.

This is a film which excels in sensation, putting us into Eva's head and identifying wrong behavior by simply showing a teenager eating food in dribbling close-up.  But when it comes to explaining Kevin away, it lacks.  I admire that director Lynne Ramsay and co-screenwriter Rory Stewart Kinnear tried, but they should have stuck the realm of the senses.  The literal reality of Kevin is too much to process in this film, the screws are turned too tight, and robs it of the emotional impact it might have had.

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2012)
Directed by Lynne Ramsay.
Screenplay by Ramsay and Rory Steward Kinnear.
Starring Tilda Swinton, Jasper Newell, and Ezra Miller.

Posted by Andrew

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