We Need To Talk About Kevin is an amazing movie. There are so many things to talk about when considering it that I’m not even sure where to start. Plus, I’m not even sure I understood every moment or caught every single bit of subtext. Regardless, the experience, the great feeling of a great movie washing over you, and my appetite to instantly see it again was tremendous.
The straightforward plot of Kevin is about a mother, Eva (Tilda Swinton), remembering the difficult time she had raising her troubled son, Kevin (Ezra Miller). Kevin went on a shocking rampage, killing his fellow students and teachers when he turned 16. The movie jumps between Eva’s memories of child rearing and her current day-to-day dealing with the fallout. We Need to Talk About Kevin is anything but straightforward, which might sound daunting, but be not afraid.
This is the best instance I’ve ever seen of a film being abstract while remaining totally engaging. Which is to say, if the story were told linearly, without the aggressive stylistic flourishes, then it would still be an entertaining and coherent thriller of some sort. The text is sturdy. But director Lynne Ramsay creates something more bold with her creative editing, thematic sound design, and near over-the-top photographic choices. Scenes bleed into one another. The splash of red in one shot will match a splash in the next. The sound of a sprinkler is made hyper-real and ultimately very haunting. Extreme close-ups of fingernails being chewed or a piece of fruit being violated enhance tense dialogue exchanges.
It’s not style for style’s sake, but well thought out subtext. It’s what the movie is really about. You are meant to walk away thinking about the details as well as the response you have to the audio/visual overload. Since the plot doesn’t hold many surprises, it’s the details that truly jolt.
You can take this movie as a horror film (it can be pretty frightening), or a meditation on evil (nature vs. nurture), or any other way you like it. It has something to say about all of it. Is there evil in all of us? Is motherhood all it’s cracked up to be? What does any of this matter? And it is all left up to the audience to decide if the whole thing is meant to be literal or the fantasy of memory.
After all of that, you still get a towering performance from Tilda Swinton. It’s rather jaw-dropping, the range she shows, from the jubilant festival prologue to concerned mommy to empty shell to finally some kind of acceptance and every shade in between. The supporting cast is also great. I rather enjoyed the small amount of time with John C. Reilly as the dad and Ezra Miller’s vacant teenager. There’s even a lot of subtle black humor and a brilliant atmospheric score from Jonny Greenwood (There Will Be Blood).
We Need To Talk About Kevin is overflowing with pure cinema. Some might find it overstuffed or overcooked, but I was simply engulfed.