Title: We Need To Talk About Kevin
I'll Bite...Why Do We Need To Talk About Him? Because he's in prison for killing a bunch of his classmates.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Three-and-a-half Drano bottles out of five.
Tagline: "Mummy's little monster."
Better Tagline: "Barbarism begins at home."
Brief Plot Synopsis: Eva Katchadourian (Tilda Swinton) attempts to put her life back together following her son Kevin's (Ezra Miller) imprisonment for mass murder.
So Where Does This Rank As A Family Holiday Film? Just below Die Hard 2 and just above Silent Night, Deadly Night.
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Veering back and forth between Eva's present-day nightmare and her previous life, raising Kevin with husband Franklin (John C. Reilly), the film attempts to piece together what it is that turns a child into a killer and asks if it's possible for anyone to truly recover from such a tragedy. The answer: maybe.
"Critical" Analysis: Lynne Ramsay's adaptaion of Lionel Shriver's novel is a sanguinary piece of work. The color red infuses virtually every frame: the opening shots of Eva (Swinton) covered in tomatoes at the Tomatina festival, the red paint splashed on her house by outraged neighbors. Ambulance lights drench the scene of Kevin's crime, while in the here and now she drinks red wine to wash down her sleeping pills, waking with red rimmed eyes. Eva even hides behind a display of tomato soup cans in order to avoid the mother of one of Kevin's victims at the grocery store.
I gather Ramsay is drawing a connection between the bloody experience of childbirth and the blood spilled by an adolescent Kevin, as well as the blood ties between mother and son. As parents, we are inextricably linked to our children, whether they turn into Rhodes scholars or serial killers.
And being a father myself, I can barely conceive of what it must be like to see your child committing such a horrific act and the ensuing revisiting of every questionable decision you made: Did I poison my baby with BPH from plastic water bottles? Did I eat too much sushi? Did I not show enough affection during his/her formative years? Did I let them watch too much TV?
And what if you're not what you'd call an "enthusiastic" parent? We Need to Talk About Kevin is a tough movie to watch, and not just because much of the film takes place after he's committed his crime, but because it's obvious early on that Eva doesn't enjoy being a mother (she stands next to a jackhammer to drown out the infant Kevin's incessant crying, for example). The pediatrician tells her there's nothing physically or developmentally wrong with her curiously non-communicative son, which is small consolation for a parent who can't get her kid to say "Mommy."
Eva resents Kevin for the sacrifices he's forced her to make. In her former life, she was a globe-trotting author, now she's forced to move to the suburbs and work in a travel agency. Of course, this isn't the child's fault, and Eva appears willing to put in sincere effort to connect with her son, but she never gets the chance to grow out of her resentment. Why? Because Kevin is a legitimately creepy-ass kid.
And this is why, Swinton's fantastic performance aside, WNtTAK doesn't hit it out of the park like it should. There's little doubt early on that Kevin is a burgeoning sociopath, and Eva is too torn between her own feelings of anger and inadequacy to seriously broach the subject with Franklin, with whom Kevin is completely gregarious and loving. Serious questions of causality are brushed aside as Kevin's malevolence grows, seemingly independent of Eva' shortcomings (there is one incident of actual semi-accidental abuse, but I'm not convinced this was a defining moment).
There's a sense that Ramsay is letting Eva off the hook. For as miserable as her post-massacre existence is and as much as she beats herself up about what happened (when other parents aren't doing it for her, that is), scheduling weekly visits to her incarcerated son in a vain attempt to communicate with him, Kevin *is* a monster. Two incidents involving Eva and Franklin's second child, Cecilia, bear this out (and frankly, I'd have killed him myself after the second one).
So when he seals up his high school with Kryptonite locks then uses a hunting bow to pick off his classmates at a pep rally, it's hardly a shock. Eva's expression, when a co-worker asks, "Doesn't your son go to [such-and-such] High School?", shows less surprise than resignation, as if she knew it was coming. How could she not?
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
I felt like We Need to Talk About Kevin took the easy way out. Yes, it's a harrowing film, that poses a (very) few difficult questions and features some genuinely heartbreaking moments, but lacks complexity. Kevin was a bad seed from day one, and however Eva flagellates herself for her failings, I never got the feeling anything she did could have changed the outcome.
See It/Rent It/Skip It: See it. Swinton may be the best actress of our generation, and for all its shortcomings, WNtTAKM is still a harrowing -- and, ultimately, heartbreaking -- examination of parenthood and our limits as caregivers.
We Need to Talk About Kevin opens next month in Houston, but I couldn't bring myself to go see New Year's Eve for this week.