Directed by Lynne Ramsay. Starring Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller, Jasper Newell. 112 minutes. R
We need to talk about We Need to Talk About Kevin.
First of all, Tilda Swinton is a genius. Her emotional range is phenomenal, her intellect shines through every moment she is on screen, and her incredible talent is simply breathtaking. She should have been nominated for an Academy Award for this performance. If she had, I might have chosen her over Meryl to win this year. She is a force of nature.
Secondly, this movie turns the nature vs. nurture debate on its head, following a somewhat reluctant mother (Swinton) whose child is a psychopath. From the moment he is born, Kevin (Ezra Miller) seems to despise his mother, Eva. He screams all day, until his father (John C. Reilly) comes home, and then coos and giggles like an angel. Kevin’s will to torment Eva continues throughout his entire childhood: he refuses to speak until about four, he stays in diapers until six or seven, and he tries to drive Eva crazy while simultaneously making himself into a model child. His father works outside the home, and has no idea what Eva goes through. He continually undermines Eva’s intuition/feelings around raising this little hellion, telling her that “He’s just a sweet little boy” and that she’s paranoid, making everything Kevin does into a personal vendetta. He never once thinks that Kevin’s behaviour might actually be just that.
We also see Eva doing things that no child should experience. In a moment of frustration/provocation, she physically assaults Kevin. At one point she tells him, “Mommy was happy before Kevin came along.” She suffers from post-partum depression, sleep deprivation, and nervous exhaustion after Kevin is born, and cannot quite bring herself to love him. At one point, Kevin says, “Just because you’re used to something doesn’t mean you like it. You’re used to me…” Eva also lets Kevin get away with behaviour that likely contributes to his psychopathic development, seemingly because reprimanding him would require too much effort.
The questions Kevin raises about nature vs. nurture are complex–I’m not sure we can point to one or the other for answers. However, I am deeply bothered by the implication that if a mother doesn’t cuddle her kid enough, he might turn out to be a psychopath. That is a hell of a lot of responsibility to lay on mothers. Sometimes, kids are just horrible, and do horrible things.
The movie takes place in two intertwining time periods. In one, Eva lives alone and is heavily medicated, reviled by her community, and completely falling apart. In the other, Eva is raising her family. Something has clearly happened, but it isn’t until the very end that we discover what that was. The movie is full of moments that are confusing, tense, dark, and shocking. Its emotional pitch is always high, but is an undercurrent, leaving us guessing and uncomfortable. Kevin is one of the most disturbing, eerie movies I’ve seen in a long time. A
Films I love: Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Fargo, Being John Malkovich, Melancholia, Volver, Juno