Harrowing enough for masterpiece status, and yet, I think it’s missing a couple connecting details. The ultra-bleak We Need To Talk About Kevin contains the most evil child in movie history (that should wriggle out enough curiosity for you to see it), and that’s even before Kevin becomes a teenage mass murderer. The whole movie is a ruptured back-and-forth timeline as filtered through the mind of Kevin’s mother, Eva (Tilda Swinton, a great performance). The movie is mostly about Eva because it’s seen through her, and you can sense that everything is a recollection of her debilitated mind. This is why the movie lacks cohesion in the beginning, because the movie as a whole is a non-linear recollection. The lack of pattern suggests Eva’s shattered mind – she’s a woman in eternal turmoil over the damage that her son has caused. Kevin is played by three different actors, most predominantly by Ezra Miller as the 16-year old version.
The director is Lynne Ramsay (“Ratcatcher”), who doesn’t make films about mentally sound people. It’s based on a Lionel Shriver novel, and upon reflection, it’s the perfect title. Because Eva and her feckless husband Franklin never, ever talk about Kevin. From 4-years old, Kevin knows how to manipulate the family and he operates solely out of hate. He soils his pants deliberately just so he can have mom up to her arms in poop. He scribbles on every square foot of her map mural in her special room. This is merely the beginning of his sociopathic savagery.
As Kevin grows up, he commits acts that are much more horrible and yet impossible to pin on him. In a way, he is a master sociopath in always letting his mom know it’s him, and yet exonerating himself from guilt when perceived by anybody else. There are scenes where the mom attempts to have a family fun night, and he plays along, only to lower the boom at the end. Dad is an enabler, and the fact that he’s so clueless only strengthens Kevin’s sociopathic skills. Franklin is the kind of father who buys upgrades to his son’s archery set even if the hobby seems to bring out the antagonistic fury of his son.
How did Kevin end up like this? I think there’s a scene missing, and yet I think it can be explained regardless. I think Eva fumed in resentment when she was pregnant with Kevin, I think she spoke of hatred, such as “I hate this unborn child. Why did I get married?” There is another scene that is there, and it’s when Eva tells her infant how much she is repulsed by him and that she would rather be back in Paris – supposedly at an orgy tomato festival that is eerily staged as a display of female carnality – where she was young, and free, and drunk, and without inhibitions. A child picks up on how unwanted it is, because even if it can’t understand language it can interpret the hostility.
I admire the movie for being ultra-bleak. I would have despised it had it been half-bleak and pulled the breaks on what it was really about and gone on mushy with itself with therapeutic analysis or turned into a horror-thriller where the kid is intervened in time. Ramsay has made a true film about psychological horror. If Eva’s communication needs had been met by her husband, all could have been prevented. Everything that occurs is an inevitable decade’s gestation of family dysfunction and Kevin’s burgeoning malice. Eva was never going to be a good mother, but in fairness, she did nothing to deserve this. At one point she says, “I am going to hell, eternal damnation, all of it,” and believes it because Kevin has manifested interminable shame upon her. This is a masterful character study by Swinton (“Michael Clayton,” “The Deep End”) in a performance of awesome despair.
111 Minutes. Rated R.
DRAMA / FOOD FOR THOUGHT / DOWNHEARTED
Film Cousins: “The Omen” (1976); “The Butcher Boy” (1997); “Elephant” (2003); “Beautiful Boy” (2011).