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Watching "We Need to Talk About Kevin"
Published on October 25, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about the film "We Need to Talk About Kevin," which I saw at the Chatham Film Festival.

Here's an excerpt:

"The film, which is based on the novel of the same name, tells the story of a Columbine-like school shooting. But what makes 'We Need to Talk About Kevin' worth watching isn’t the story, which for director Lynne Ramsay is a secondary concern, but the film’s fractured, nightmarish style: The movie is an auditory and visual triumph, where images and sounds seamlessly melt into each other, signifying changes in mood, location and time. There is dialogue but it’s minimal, and rarely expository. And the film builds to a shattering conclusion, even though the tragedy at the heart of the story is never a secret.

'We Need To Talk About Kevin' cuts back and forth between the present and the past, showing us glimpses of travel writer Eva’s (Tilda Swinton) life before she became a mother, after her son Kevin was born and following Kevin’s imprisonment for an unspeakable crime. We gather that Eva once had a loving husband (John C. Reilly) and a daughter, and that the family lived in an expensive suburban home, but that today Eva lives in a small house that is a constant target for vandals, and is happy to get a job doing clerical work at a travel agency. Eva is a community-wide pariah, slapped by angry mothers in public and treated with scorn at an office holiday party. Interestingly, the only person who shows her genuine kindness is one of her son’s victims.

Swinton is outstanding, as usual, but the actors who embody Kevin are amazing; the child version, played by Jasper Newell, is one of the more disturbing kids ever to grace the screen, reminiscent of Damien in 'The Omen.' He was simply born bad, although the film suggests that Eva was not exactly the world’s greatest mother; in one scene, she tells the toddler Kevin that before he was born, she was happy. This is an unforgivable comment, but it’s understandable; Kevin is a difficult, manipulative child. But he only shows that side of himself to Eva. Some have criticized the film for making Kevin too evil, but I didn’t have a problem with that.

For one thing, the story is told from Eva’s perspective, in a highly-stylized manner; the film is essentially an arthouse horror movie, and it presents a version of the world that’s more fluid, fractured and portentous than everyday life. There’s exactly one scene where Kevin seems like a normal boy: In the first scene in which he appears, when he says he doesn’t want any breakfast, and his father gives him a hug. Later scenes reveal the truth about Kevin (Ezra Miller, very scary): that he has the classic traits of a psychopath, and that it’s only a matter of time before he does something truly reprehensible. (This characterization isn’t far-fetched. In the non-fiction book 'Columbine,' author Dave Cullen suggests that one of the killers, Eric Harris, was a psychopath, who exhibited troubling behavior from an early age and had little respect for human life) As the film progresses, the relationship between Eva and Kevin becomes more interesting, and complicated. Eva doesn’t like her son, but he is her son, and she feels a certain motherly love and obligation toward him."

To read the whole thing, click here.

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