Friday, July 6, 2012

Enough to Warn Me Off Becoming a Parent.

Film: We Need to Talk About Kevin
Year: 2011
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Written by: Lynne Ramsay and Rory Kinnear, based on the novel 'We Need to Talk About Kevin' by Lionel Shriver
Starring: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller, Jasper Newell, Rock Duer, Ashley Gerasimovich, Alex Manette, Kenneth Franklin.
Running time: 107 min. 

As a teenager, I'll be the first to admit that we are scary little creatures. I mean, really scary. Okay, so I'm not a parent, but it must be so disappointing when you spend all of that time being excited over having a tiny bundle of innocent youth...that turns into a huge bundle of angst. Yeah, that's probably an underestimation of teens (because I don't like being underestimated).

Or maybe I'm taking that idea straight from We Need to Talk About Kevin.

Eva (Tilda Swinton) and Franklin (John C. Reilly) fall in love. At that point, Eva is a successful travel writer who has been places, and wishes to keep going places. However, she and Franklin get married, and have a son called Kevin, which puts her plans on an indefinite hold. While Franklin instantly warms to his son, Eva feels doesn't feel any connection to him, partly because of the fact that she'd much rather be pursuing other interests. She can't control his constant crying - even standing by a jackhammer and revelling in the relief that that annoying sound makes, or control her son, as a matter of fact. And this is only when he's young.


Yes, he turns into a huge bundle of angst (played by Ezra Miller). But a bundle of angst that is mixed in with violence and the incomprehensible need to hurt people. This turns into something that Eva couldn't predict, and something that is so wildly out of her hands, yet she feels responsible for the mass amount of pain that Kevin has caused to, well, everyone.

This film is by no means a conventional one. In a night that offered me four considerably different films, We Need to Talk About Kevin stuck out like a sore thumb: not only because it was by far the most impressive movie of the night, but because it really didn't feel like a movie experience. It was hard for me to fully articulate what kind of experience that We Need to Talk About Kevin was drawing me into. But when a surprise earthquake hit half way through - even despite the fact that earthquakes are my worst fear in the world and I was at home alone with no lights on - I felt more terrified than I had ever been in my life. This was because I felt that Kevin was responsible.


As an audience, we're drawn into the way that Eva sees everything. There's never a point where we see anything from Kevin's perspective, so we're never really told why he is doing what he is doing. This is perhaps the feature that I loved the most. I've always been far more interested in seeing how one's extreme action affects someone else, instead of just seeing the extreme action. Through a fragmented storyline, we are shown Kevin as a kid and Kevin as a teenager, along with Eva dealing with Kevin as a child and then the aftermath that he creates. The film doesn't get straight to the point or lay everything out for us at once. In other hands, when Kevin gets to his final evil act we would have seen the actual thing happen with all the gory details displayed on screen. However, the film is just as effective - if not more effective - by playing it out in a short, yet extremely disturbing sequence, and enclosing it in an envelope of a mother's guilt. For Eva, it was like the letter that she half-heartedly expected but never thought would arrive. We see all of the words form on the letter through Eva's eyes. The trouble with this letter is that some of the words are one's that she can't understand, but they all culminate to say one thing: "This is all your fault."


We Need to Talk About Kevin isn't just a portrait of mass-destruction, it is a portrait of helplessness. Eva wasn't the one who killed a whole lot of students, but she footed the blame for it because being the parent, she is the one responsible for making her kid the way he is. Being a teenager, I know that if I were to ever do anything like that, my parents definitely wouldn't have anything to do with it. However, people don't see it that way. Eva has been helpless all of her life: helplessly in love, helplessly disconnected to her son, helplessly trying to her life even though she's plagued by guilt because of actions that were beyond her control. Tilda Swinton's masterful performance is what makes this portrait come to life. Heart-wrenching life. It was devastatingly real, adding to the notion that this wasn't really a film. Her performance is amplified by the shocking use of red in the cinematography and production design, always there as a reminder of either the guilt or the violence that is playing out around her, keeping her trapped. Lynne Ramsay's direction keeps this a tense, shocking, terrifying portrayal of something that I hope will never happen to me, but was so realistic that I've been warned off parenting for a wee while.


Do we need to talk about Kevin? Well, yes. We need to talk about how great Ezra Miller is as Kevin. That's one actor who we'll be talking about for years to come. Once he hits the big time - which I'm sure won't take that long - we can all look back on this rather overlooked film from 2011 that deserved a few Oscars but unfortunately came back with no dice. And it has the distinct achievement of making archery look uncool in a year filled with heroes that use a bow and arrow as their weapon of choice.

What I got:

25 comments:

  1. Great review.
    I really loved this film. The thing about it is, you never quite stop thinking about it.
    Oh I thought all the Kevins were so creepy. I love the red in the film. I mean it's like a sure shot way of making me love a film- put lots and lots of red in it. Swinton was so amazing in her pain and her helplessness. I love the final revealing of what Kevin had done, because though we were expecting it throughout, it was still so shocking. I love the bow he does- that image stuck with me the most.

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    1. No, you never do stop thinking about it. It's going to be engrained in my brain for ages and ages.

      I do love that final revealing of what Kevin did. Just the way that played out - wow. And yes, that bow was pretty disturbing.

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  2. I must say that for me the most impressive part of the film is its direction. Lynne Ramsay is simply fantastic. I love how so many shots are drenched in red, and how the first twenty minutes of the film have this weird, ethereal and horrifically dark feel. The direction is tremendous, and to have it in a film with such great acting performances as we see from Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller (the latter in one disturbing image absolutely mastering the Kubrickian stare in what is definitely a homage to A CLOCKWORK ORANGE) is simply overwhelming. I was deeply disturbed by this movie and don't want to see it again. However, I think more people should see it as it might be a really good cure for the horrendous problem that is overpopulation. In a world where women are shagging their spouses senseless because of books like Fifty Shades of Grey, more people should watch this film and hopefully think more carefully about having children. I look around and see a world of youth that is frankly incredibly depressing and disheartening; for some people We Need To Talk About Kevin will be a wake-up call, but for me it was a powerful reminder of how pithy, idiotic and mindless so many young people are today.

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    1. "I look around and see a world of youth that is frankly incredibly depressing and disheartening...pithy, idiotic and mindless so many young people are today." - Kind of offensive, dude. Not all youth are that depressing. And we can't help the way that we are.

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    2. Wasn't trying to offend you, or target anyone directly. Perhaps I am too cynical about it. I'm certainly not trying to say all youths are depressing and mindless. However, since I live very close to a high school, I've had numerous unpleasant encounters with vulgar, idiotic and insulting teenagers that have really annoyed me. On one particularly memorable occasion, my girlfriend was verbally and physically harassed, to which I reacted violently. Completely unacceptable behaviour that absolutely horrified me. I know you're not all like that, but I must say I've had more negative encounters than positive ones. Sorry if I've caused offence.

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  3. If I ever make my 2011 list of favorites, I think Shame and We Need to Talk about Kevin would remove The Artist and Hugo from the top. We Need to Talk is a film that deeply affected me and it's so great and disturbing at the same time. I was SO empathic with Eva that I felt that it was me who was slapped in the face etc. and I could feel her loneliness and pain. And it's a wonderful review Stevee. And yeah, you don't really want to have a kid after you've seen this indie gem. Mothers-to-be shouldn't watch it no matter what.

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    1. Ah, I'll be making my list of 2011 favourites at the end of the month (finally!). My favourite is definitely Shame, but this one is high up there. Mothers-to-be definitely shouldn't watch it!

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  4. This film is definitely one of my favorites, and I thought it did the book justice. Book Eva is easily one of the best written characters I've ever read about, and Tilda was so perfect playing her. I do wish they movie would've gone into a bit more detail at times, especially *how* Kevin arraigned his masacre, because it is seriously mind blowing, and would shut up the few that say it's "so unrealistic."

    I also hug and kiss my baby boy about 50x more after reading/seeing this book/movie. haha

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    1. I must read the book now! Especially because I'd like to know how Kevin set up that massacre.

      Haha, I bet you do!

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  5. Your title is spot on, Stevee, that's kind of how I feel every time I see kids behaving badly, ahah.

    Every time I see a photo of Ezra Miller in this movie it gives me the chills. Interesting pairing of Tilda and John C. Reilly, but seems to be working well here. I'll be renting this at some point, great write up!

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    1. Haha, same! Mind you, I'm only young, so the longer I can stay without a baby the better. Hope you like it when it comes out!

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  6. Great review. Definitely one of my five favorite films. It's truly disturbing but also exotic for the way it is told from the perspective of a woman who is lost by all that she's dealing with and why her life has gone downhill with many people blaming her for what happened.

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    1. Exotic - that is definitely the way to describe it!

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  7. This is a wonderful, insightful review. The title made me smile ... it's probably a good thing I had my kids before this movie was released. I have postponed seeing this film or reading the book because, as a mom, I'm afraid it will be too disturbing. However, your review is one of many that has convinced me this movie is not to be missed. Besides, I am fascinated by the prospect of seeing Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly working together.

    Since Freud, and probably before that, mothers have been scapegoated for their kids' issues. Moms used to be believed to cause everything from autism to schizophrenia. It seems unjust to me -- often the reason for a child's psychologically damaged state and his actions are just unknown. I am interested to see how this novel and movie handle this issue.

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    1. Haha, it probably was! It will be a little disturbing - in fact, it would be interesting to see how a parent reacts to this.

      I totally agree - a mother shouldn't be blamed for their child's behaviour. It does seem unjust.

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  8. I completely agree with everything you said, you hit the spot with most of the things, especially the use of red and the performances! It was a very interesting and hard experience for me to watch it, too! I felt drained after it and shocked at the scene where she comes home and discovers...you know what! At first, I thought he didn't do it, that it was an angry parent or something, but no! A heartbreaking film, but beautiful in the same time!

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    1. I was totally shocked by what he did, even though I knew what was going to happen. The way Tilda performed that scene...wow.

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  9. I saw We Need To Talk About Kevin recently too and it's always interesting to compare notes. Unfortunately when I was watching it I had my Mum next to me who was enjoying a bottle of wine with my Dad and because she had already read the book, she thought it would be helpful to constantly talk, revealing plot details and the like so my experience was somewhat marred. However, I thought it was interesting that you thought that Eva is all to blame. I got the impression that it was a story of nature vs. nurture. Was it her fault for being a bad mother, or was he simply an evil little shit from birth?

    Personally I thought it was a little nurture and a lot of nature. That guy was so freakin' evil! Like some of the things he said in the scenes where he was young... normal kids just don't act like that! On the other hand, when he said such terrible things, I couldn't fathom why the mother didn't instantly think "This kid needs psychiatric help, pronto!"

    I thought Ezra Miller was pretty good but I must admit I thought the middle Kevin was the best. He was the creepiest little actor I've ever seen!

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    1. Oh, that would suck! Oh well, my experience was marred by that damn earthquake that (pun not intended) jolted the rest of the film - I wasn't as into it as I was before since I was a little shaken.

      I don't think I ever said that Eva was to blame. What I said was that people thought she was, which was unfair.

      It was a little nurture and a lot of nature.

      That middle Kevin was really good!

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  10. Tilda Swinton was absolutely fantastic here, I really, really felt for her character! The use of the non-linear narrative and all the red - this film was just amazing to look at. All the actors playing Kevin was just creepy. So glad you loved this film!

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    1. I really, really felt for Tilda Swinton too! Poor woman.

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  11. Fantastic review. I don't think any movie will ever scare me from wanting to be a mother, this one I treated a little bit like grounded Rosemary's Baby - Kevin's evil was so full and uncompromised it was almost cartoonish, but because the story was so masterfully directed it was enough for me to buy it. I loved Tilda Swinton's performance, Ezra Miller - not so much. He was good, but nothing special for me, just a little devil, doing his thing.

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    1. You didn't like Ezra Miller? For someone who is around the same age as me, that performance was filled with talent that I haven't seen from anyone else around my age.

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  12. I just saw this movie a couple weeks ago! Definitely the creepy kid I wouldn't want to mess with ahah. Great, all-out performance by Tilda Swinton (as always) and as you noted, Ezra Miller was outstanding as well.

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    1. I definitely wouldn't mess with that kid! He scared the crap out of me.

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