By Don Simpson | December 12, 2011
Writers: Lynne Ramsay, Rory Kinnear, Lionel Shriver (novel)
Starring: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller, Jasper Newell, Rock Duer, Ashley Gerasimovich, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Alex Manette
Adapted from Lionel Shriver’s 2003 novel We Need to Talk About Kevin, writer-director Lynne Ramsay’s (Morvern Callar, Ratcatcher) film is about a miserable budding young sociopath and his oh-so-oblivious parents. Told from Eva’s (Tilda Swinton) perspective, the fluidly non-linear narrative We Need to Talk About Kevin intertwines past and present, memory and inner-most thoughts.
If we were to reconstruct the narrative in a linear fashion, We Need to Talk About Kevin would begin with Eva’s happy marriage to Franklin (John C. Reilly). But then the spawn of Satan arrives and they name him Kevin (Rock Duer). From the moment Kevin exits Eva’s womb, the baby seems to hate her with fiery fervor. As Kevin develops into a young boy (Jasper Newell), the hatred continues to boil; he will not communicate with his mother and refuses to be potty trained. As a teenager (Ezra Miller), Kevin evolves into a fully fleshed-out sociopath as we witness his dead-eyed gaze, his utter contempt for others, and his apparent lack of guilt. Eva and Franklin idly observe as the demon spawn hones his archery skills. We can sense that Eva senses that something is wrong with Kevin, but she never tries to get help; Franklin, on the other hand, is embarrassingly clueless of the monster being raised under his roof.
Everything in Ramsay’s film is overtly orchestrated for the sole purpose of showcasing just how unruly Kevin is. We see scene after scene of Kevin acting out and are left with no other assumptions than he will develop into an evil teenager. (The non-linear narrative structure solidifies Kevin’s fate by revealing relatively early on that Kevin is presently in prison.) I kept hoping that this barrage of in your face clues were mere red herrings, that Kevin would not turn out so bad after all; but Ramsay approaches We Need to Talk About Kevin as a heavy-handed diatribe about the ramifications of oblivious parenting. The title says it all, Eva and Franklin need to talk about Kevin and get him some help, but they never do. We Need to Talk About Kevin is about an accident waiting to happen; when said accident occurs, all we can do is sit back, wag our index fingers and shout “I told you so!”
I do not intend, however, to discredit the message of Ramsay’s film. Oblivious parenting has been proven time and time again to have nightmarish results. Some people should never have children — Eva and Franklin are caricatures of well-intentioned people who are just that, people who never should have had children. But then that line is a little bit blurry because their second child, Celia (Ashley Gerasimovich), seems like a perfectly sweet kid. The presence of Celia seems to suggest that the fault is not that of the parents, but that Kevin was born bad. Regardless, Eva and Franklin are totally responsible for not dealing with Kevin’s psychosis before he goes postal.
To date, there has not been a Tilda Swinton performance that has not sent near-crippling shivers down my spine — if any female actor of her generation can personify cold and creepy, it is her — and Swinton’s rapturous performance as Eva is no different. It might have been interesting to have someone in the role of Eva acting against their “type,” but I am certain that no one could have replicated Swinton’s performance. Also, all three Kevin’s are perfectly cast. Rock Duer, Jasper Newell and Ezra Miller all look and act remarkably similar, lending the role of Kevin an uncanny sense of continuity over this 16-year timeline. (Another note of obvious casting decisions: Miller’s take on Kevin is remarkably similar to his dark and brooding portrayal of Elliot in Another Happy Day.)