We Need to Talk About Kevin

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Do we really? Is there anything that was left unsaid about the young Antichrist embodied by Kevin? Actually, I think we need to talk about Eva more. If being a parent is an exhausting full-time job, being the parent of a child like Kevin surely must be an inferno.

Lynne Ramsey’s film is a screen adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s bestseller novel with the same name. If the novel is written in an epistolary format, built on Eva Khatchadourian’s letters, the film only borrows the subjective viewpoint of the story, which helps the viewer empathise with Tilda Swinton’s character from the very beginning. Speaking of which, from the opening scene (which brings the viewer back to the year 1999, when a similar see-through curtain tangled Ramsey’s child protagonist from Ratcatcher) we know that something bad will happen: the curtain appears too pure, while the noise of what seem to be water sprinklers distorts the calm sequence. The film follows a discontinuous time structure which seems to be Eva’s subjective recollection after “the incident”. If the ambiguous time structure and the uncertainty of the atrocity committed by Kevin are omnipresent throughout the film, the expressivity of the sanguine reds used throughout the film, hints to the nature of Kevin’s actions. Kevin is described through images which seem borrowed from horror films that tackled the same theme of the demonic child. The most powerful performance is however delivered by the actor who plays Kevin as a toddler, rather than the highly acclaimed Ezra Miller, as he defies Eva with some looks that would scare even the most loving mother.

Just like in Roman Polanski’s Carnage, John C. Reilly plays the part he seems most fitted for: the regular American dad. Although he is presented as a loving father, the impending sentence which gives the film’s title is actually addressed to him; in some way it expresses Eva’s cry for help, asking her husband to acknowledge Kevin’s problematic behaviour. Reilly’s character prefers to consider Kevin ‘just a kid’, incapable of doing much harm, buying into his angelic attitude towards him. In fact, the father is the only one who seems deprived of Kevin’s evilness, but that changes as the climax approaches. In the meantime, the mother is morally and physically obliged to endure all of Kevin’s outbursts; the scene where he ruins his mother’s collection of maps, is the most suggestive, as he destroys both her interests, and symbolically her world as well. Tilda Swinton delivers the performance of her lifetime; the former bohemian is transformed by Kevin into a shattered insomniac who struggles to cope with everything Kevin puts her through, especially after the “incident”. 

Probably the greatest absent of 2011 in terms of nominations at film festivals, Lynne Ramsey’s We Need to Talk About Kevin is definitely a film worth watching. However, it may repress any instincts of becoming a parent in the nearby future, as you leave the cinema with the controversial question the film raises: is Kevin’s behaviour rooted in his nature or in his nurture?