We Need to Talk About Kevin follows a mother as she meekly tries to get on with her life after an incident. While we watch her struggle, she remembers raising her son, Kevin.
Only from seeing previews, posters and vague descriptions of the film, I thought I had a clear idea what this incident was. You might too, but I’m not one to give it away. You may be surprised. And Kevin would hate it if I ruined any surprises.
The mother, Eva, is portrayed by Tilda Swinton. I believe this is her greatest role, to date. She makes Eva both a sympathetic character, but also very flawed. The life she’s living, doesn’t seem to be the one she wants; married, with children in a big suburban house does not fit her. She is stuck in constant resentment. We understand her struggles with Kevin, but can’t always be on her side. She is tense and intense as a mother, and after the incident, seems to have become a scared, meek shell of a woman. The whole film is from her perspective, she bears the truths about Kevin like a reluctant Atlas, and even in her weakest, most destroyed moments has some unimaginable strength.
In flashbacks before her son is born, Eva is so full of life and energy. She’s happy. When Kevin is a baby, she seems frazzled, in over her head, and possibly suffering from post-partnum depression. The fact that he always seems to be crying around her, but fine with his father, Frankin (John C. Reilly,) doesn’t help the situation. As years pass, Eva tries to teach and connect with Kevin, but he’s stubborn and defiant even as a young toddler. This only gets worse as he grows and it causes more clashes between mother and son. When Kevin is a teenager (played by Erza Miller), it seems that Eva sees more potential in him. She makes more of an effort to spend time with Kevin, but he coldly throws these moments of bonding into her face.
This film could bring up countless debates whether Kevin is the product of nature or nurture. From the disturbing opening images of Eva in a tomato festival that looks more like a blood orgy, I got the idea that Kevin’s conception, or Eva as a whole, was somehow tainted. Even at his youngest stages, Kevin seems full of hate and defiance, all directed only at his mother. Though his mother tries to teach him, he doesn’t talk for a very long time. The fact that Eva holds some resentment toward her son all his life does not bode well for nurture. She tells him as a baby, “Mommy was happy before little Kevin came along.” And the incident that finally potty-trains Kevin is downright child abuse. I stand undecided.
We Need to Talk About Kevin can be a tough film to watch. It certainly is not a feel good film. In fact, some may see it as a parent’s worst nightmare. However, it is very smart, both in script and how images in the present bring up memories of the past. It does a great job of keeping everything connected and flowing naturally into a narrative, that could otherwise get confusing. And Swinton leads the film with a startling, raw and powerful performance, I found Oscar worthy.
“Me and Kevin were playing Christmas kidnapping!”
I actually just finished watching this and found it quite unsettling. I checked out a fair number of reviews and viewer comments as well as watching the DVD featurettes…also undecided as I can see both sides of the nature vs. nurture argument. One thing was clear for me though–that the true stars of the film were the two young actors portraying Kevin, particularly Ezra Miller. Their similar malevolent glares directed at the mother (and later the little sister) simply gave me the creeps. My personal take on it directed my sympathy toward the frazzled and puzzled mother, while the kid(s) eerily reminded me of the young folk of THE BAD SEED, THE CHILDREN’S HOUR, and even the young Damian in THE OMEN. Kevin’s antipathy to his mother comes almost too early in life to not be “nature”, and his cruelty to his little sister and the killing of her pet seemed to be showing the progression of a serial killer (or worse) in the making…and the fate of his buddy dad was to be expected, but still horrifying. All in all, definitely not a pleasant film; but it is truly the most chilling and frightening of the year…and Ezra Miller’s cold, hateful stare will stick with me for a long time! He deserved some sort of nomination for a really creepy performance.
Thanks Ken, I agree, great acting all around. Those young versions of Kevin were very unsettling.
Triggering this kind of debate is what makes the film great (as if it wasn’t great enough through the performances). My own interpretation would be that the love of this mother against all odds, especially against the fact that her own kid despises her, is what creates the tension at the center of the story. She cannot help but stick with him, even if it means perennial suffering. And I agree, a feel good movie it ain’t, unless watching very good films makes you happy 🙂 . My own take on it: http://thomas4cinema.wordpress.com/2012/01/28/we-need-to-talk-about-kevin-lynn-ramsey-2011/.
Thanks Thomas. Crazy to think that Eva will never leave Kevin, and even has some love for him to the end.