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We Need to Talk About Kevin


Year of release

Directed by
Lynne Ramsay

Written by
Lynne Ramsay (script)
Rory Kinnear (script)
Lionel Shriver (novel)

Tilda Swinton
Ezra Miller
John C. Reilly
Jasper Newell

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Plot – Eva Khatchadourian (Swinton) is attempting to rebuild her life following a dark incident. Once a successful travel writer she is now struggling financially and living a solitary life as she is shunned by the community around her. The incident that brought this about concerned her son Kevin (Miller/Newell/Duer) and a dreadful act he committed. Kevin and his mother had always had a very troubled and tempestuous relationship, as from a very early age there seemed to be a great darkness within Kevin. It was a darkness however that his father (Reilly) did not see and refused to believe in, with tragic circumstances.

Do you remember Kevin McAllister? The character Macaulay Culkin played in Home Alone. He got into arguments with his relatives, disrupted the family meal, destroyed his brother's room and told his mum he wishes his whole family would just disappear. He was a little bit of a brat. Well this Kevin is...worse! A lot, lot worse.

I certainly wouldn't describe this as a particularly easy watch. It's disturbing, uncomfortable viewing which really gets under your skin and sticks with you for the following days. What really grips and fascinates is the complex relationship between mother and son, and how it's portrayed by Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller. Tilda Swinton excels as Kevin's mother, creating an agonised and terrorized woman. She wears a seemingly constant haunted look on her face. And she plays a terrific, and quite heartbreaking scene where Kevin is sick and finally he looks for, and happily accepts, her attention and love. All the frustration, regret and fear just drains away from Swinton's face and for pretty much the only time in the film her face lights up. And then there is the combo of Jasper Newell and Ezra Miller. Together they manufacture a creatures of sheer terror, the titular Kevin. Just on appearance alone they are both well cast. Newell has that classic devil's spawn, omen kid kind of thing going, while Miller just has a disturbingly mesmeric presence.

While it's never expressly brought up, there is quite obviously the case of the nature v nurture argument going on here. Is it Eva's fault that Kevin grows up into the psychopath that he does, or was their nothing that could be done to save him? It seems quite obvious that Kevin was an accident, it was most certainly not something his mother had planned for, or indeed wanted. This is clear before Kevin is even born. When she goes to the birthing class all of the other expectant mothers have their pregnant bellies out on show, but she keeps hers hidden beneath layers of clothing. Does she give her all when it comes to being a mother? From the early stages of Kevin's life there is a clear division between the two of them. Does this come about as a result of Eva's attitude towards Kevin, or is Kevin just born this way? And moving forward does Kevin become the man he does because of how he was raised? Or was he just born with a streak of pure evil running through him? It's always an interesting issue. Though I personally think Kevin was just a little s**t, and would be no matter what his mother did! Though due to her demeanour and interaction with Kevin it's tough to feel any great sympathy for her, no matter how cruel and perverse his treatment towards his mother gets.

Film trivia – The producers believed from the outset that due to the subject matter of the film they would be unlikely to secure any corporate sponsorship. As a result production designer Judy Becker put together a series of generic brand labels, such as “Ma Ramsay's Tomato Soup” (a reference to director Lynne Ramsay). After the film debuted however the producers were approached by Heinz for a tie in product – Kevin Ketchupdourian (as opposed to Khatchadourian). The idea was eventually scrapped however, with many believing the disturbing tagline to be the problem - “Killer taste!”
As for the look of the film, well I'll describe it in a Sesame Street kind of style, “Today's colour is the colour red!” Yes there is certainly a crimson motif running throughout the film, with pretty much every scene having splashes of it in one fashion or another. It may not be the most subtle of techniques but it is undeniably effective at playing into the foreboding sense of doom that permeates the whole film.

Even though I knew what the film was about there were still plenty of times throughout were I expected the film to go down the route of an indie comedy. You've got the classic dysfunctional family, a quirky and eclectic soundtrack and a few brief moments of dark comedy such as Eva's reaction to religious salesmen come to the door. Though I wasn't sure if the comedy was always intentional. There's a scene where his dad gives Kevin a Christmas present of a large hunting bow; I don't know if there were aiming for ominous but to me it just felt like a bit of farcical black comedy.

I found the first half of the film in particular to be very strong. Once we switch to the teenage Kevin I felt their was a moment or two where the film just resorted too easily to clichéd psychological horror territory. Though the scenes between Swinton and Miller do keep the film on track as they share an uneasy and awkward chemistry. Indeed much of the film takes on a very uncomfortable nature when they share a scene, such as Eva's attempts at bonding of a game of miniature golf and dinner.

Another interesting theme is the addressing of the maternal instinct. Even with everything that goes on, at the end of the film she is still standing beside her son. Does she do this because no matter how much he may disturb and disgust her she still feels a bond with her son? Or is it due to an element of guilt; she believes she is responsible so feels the need to support her son. And the need to punish herself by staying around this community where she is loathed by her neighbours? As a result of the film's flashback structure we feel like we are robbed of some of the story, such as what happens in court at Kevin's trial. Does she strongly defend her son, and that's the reason why she is so hated? In fact the whole flashback, in hindsight move leaves us with a few holes which we have to try and fill ourselves and come to our own conclusions. One hole is the question of whether Eva ever tries to actually get help for the problem. Does she ever visit a councillor? Does she ever confide in friends? We see a conflict in her relationship with her husband over her attitude towards Kevin. What direction did their conversations about him take?

Conclusion – A disquieting and extremely powerful film which really gripped me, so much that it has very much stuck in my mind since watching it a couple of days ago. Swinton delivers a supreme showing which leads the film from start to finish.