Tuesday, 25 October 2011

We Need to Talk about Kevin

Year:  2011
Director:  Lynne Ramsay
Screenplay:  Lynne Ramsay and Rory Stewart Kinnear, based on the novel We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver
Starring:  Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller, Jasper Newell, Rocky Duer, Ashley Gerasimovich
Running Time:  112 minutes
Genre:  Drama, crime, family

Lionel Shriver's best-selling novel We Need to Talk about Kevin has been a mainstay of book groups and commuters on buses and trains throughout the world since it's first publication in 2003, and this film adaptation has been in development since 2005.

The story deals with a Columbine style high school massacre from the perspective of the mother of the perpetrator.  Eva Katchadourian (Swinton) is a successful New York based travel writer and photographer until she is forced into domesticity in a bland New England town when she falls pregnant.  The film moves back and forth through time from the aftermath of the massacre, where the shattered, isolated Eva has become the town hate figure, to her tortured relationship with teenage son Kevin (Miller), who she resents right from the get-go, and who regards her with little more than open contempt and hatred.  All the time her amiable husband, Franklin (Reilly), doesn't see anything wrong with Kevin and can't understand why his wife is seemingly unable to bond with her child.

The film opens with Eva as one of a writhing mass of bodies at the Spanish La Tomatina festival in which participants hurl tomatoes at each other for fun.  The colour red becomes an important element in the film, from the mass of people covered in pulped tomatoes at La Tomatina to the vivid splashes of red paint that her neighbours throw at her house after the massacre and the red and glow of the police car and ambulance lights.  The tomato festival serves as a reminder of the free, exciting lifestyle which Eva loses when she falls pregnant.  In a key later scene Eva hides from the mother of one of her son's victims, by hiding behind a wall of cans of tomato soup. 

The film features a superb performance by Tilda Swinton in the lead role, her face a mask of savage, barely restrained emotion, and in the scenes set after the massacre, she becomes haggard, dead-eyed and almost ghost-like.  Ezra Miller is also impressive as the sociopathic Kevin, full of sneering contempt and hatred.  The movie poses the question of how much Eva herself is responsible for her son's actions.  However Kevin would probably test the patience of even the most loving, easy-going mother.  However, the film suggests that Eva and Kevin are not that dissimilar, they even look a lot like each other, to the extent of wearing very similar shirts.

Kevin remains an enigma throughout the film.  It's never revealed why he does what he does, and it is one of the film's strengths that it does not provide answers where there are none.  This is a striking, dark and powerful film boasting great perfomances and a powerful visual style from acclaimed Scottish director Lynne Ramsay.  Although it's probably not the best pick for family movie night.

Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly in We Need to Talk about Kevin


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