Review: ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’

Tilda Swinton in 'We Need to Talk About Kevin' (Oscilloscope)
Tilda Swinton in 'We Need to Talk About Kevin' (Oscilloscope)

The Devil is hiding in plain sight.

Or, rather, a devil, a demon-child whose true personality is known only to his guilt-ridden mother, Eva (Tilda Swinton). Everyone else sees an angelic creature named Kevin, beloved by his blinkered father Franklin (John C. Reilly) and all who come in contact with him.

Kevin hides his true nature from everyone but Eva, driving her to the brink of insanity as her guilt from bearing such an abomination becomes heavier and heavier. She lashes out and then is blamed for being overbearing and unreasonable, thus adding to her overwhelming emotional burden.

The dour, portentous tone of We Need to Talk About Kevin can be attributed to director Lynne Ramsay, years removed from the sad yet realistic and down to earth Ratcatcher and the somewhat-more-nervous and uneven Morvern Callar. Or, perhaps it can be traced back to the source material, a novel by Lionel Shriver that was published in 2003.

Shriver told the story as a series of letters from Eva to Franklin, all written in hindsight after something terrible has happened. Because events are presented as a mystery that is not solved until the end, I’ll avoid spoilers by not discussing the “something terrible.”

As the movie begins, the “something terrible” has already happened, and Eva moves through life as though she were Sisyphus, eternally rolling a boulder to the top of a mountain and then watching it roll back down. Her body is stiff and tense, anticipating physical and verbal abuse from everyone she encounters. She admits that she never really wanted children, that she resented Kevin since before he was born, that she longs to be free of his presence, that she hates having to suffer the indignity of dealing with her inferiors — meaning everybody.

Eva, in short, is not a terribly nice person, but there’s also ample indication that she’s suffering from clinical depression that goes largely untreated and ignored by her husband Franklin, who dotes on Kevin to the exclusion of nearly all else. If Eva is unsufferably negative, Franklin is a happy idiot, and Kevin is the spawn of Satan.

The child, played by three different actors, is also a master of deceit and deception. Ezra Miller, who plays Kevin as a teenager, perfectly captures all the hateful looks that no one ever wants to see, and repeats them over and over again.

All of which makes We Need to Talk About Kevin an exceedingly unpleasant experience to endure, albeit one that features an exceptional performance by Swinton and plenty of post-screening food for thought. Heavily seasoned with an oppressive flavor of fatalistic tragedy, it’s the ultimate anti-date movie, to the point that otherwise loving couples may avoid sex for weeks after watching it, just to make sure they’re not responsible for another Kevin.

We Need to Talk About Kevin opens today at Angelika Dallas and Angelika Plano.

One thought on “Review: ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’

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  1. All true – a difficult film to endure, but also very powerful and with moments of narrative brilliance (Eva pausing with her pram next to an ear-splitting air hammer, just to escape the constant din of wailing from her new evil seed baby). The fact that Swinton received no Oscar nom for this performance represents a true reflection of evil in the world.

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