Posted by: chance47 | 08/26/2012

Home Viewing: “We Need To Talk About Kevin” or “We really need to talk about Tilda.” or “We really need to talk about Ezra…and Tilda…and Kevin”

Tilda Swinton as Eva in “We Need To Talk About Kevin”

At the core of many great horror movies is a moment where a character or a group of characters fully realize the weight of the situation they are in.  They are able to step back, if only for a second, and realize the magnitude of the situation they are in.  Able to take a moment and think:  What have I done?  What have I wrought? Am I to blame?  How do I get through this?  Whose hands are covered in blood?   These moments add to the terror, to the horror, to the suspense of these movies.

“We Need To Talk About Kevin” is a movie based on that moment.  It is perhaps one of the scariest, unsettling, and horrific movies I have seen in years, and you can’t really classify it as a horror movie.

Based on the best-selling book by Lionel Shriver,  “Kevin” centers on the Khatchadourian family.  A seemingly idyllic well-to-do family. The movie opens with the future matriarch of the family, Eva (Tilda Swinton), being lifted in a Christ-like fashion in a sea of blood and pulp. Only as the camera pans or do we realize that Eva is one of hundreds of people celebrating in an Italian tomato festival. A she is carried by hundreds of hand through a fresh stew a smile takes hold of her face. This is Eva in her element. This is Eva happy.

Swinton and John C. Reilly anxiously awaiting news.

From there the movie careens back and forth through Eva’s life. Her past and her present. We meet her husband Franklin, a wonderful John C. Reilly cast against type, and her kids, Celia and the titular Kevin (Ezra Miller). But early enough we sense that all is not quite right. Present day Eva is a stark contrast to her past incarnations. Her younger self is put together, hair perfectly crafted and sharp.  While the Eva of today is frazzled, hair unkempt, clothes hastily adorned.

Largely what we watch is how this free-spirited woman obsessed with world travel and unencumbered fun ends up the harried, lamented, and hated single mother living in a decrepit house and an expression of her face of pure shell-shock.  During an early flashback we learn that Eva is pregnant, a fact that she makes no bones hiding her disappointment about. Her husband, Franklin, is ecstatic.  As we watch her give birth to her first child, Kevin, we see Franklin immediately coo and display his aptitude for paternal gestures.  Eva sits, sweaty and exhausted and apparently unmoved.  No joy of life moving across her eyes.

As she begins to raise Kevin we see her struggle with a child who would even test the patience of Mother Theresa.  As a baby Kevin continually cries in Eva’s presence yet is immediately calm when Franklin arrives.  As a toddler he saves his smile for Franklin and wears a mask of scorn for Eva.  As a young child, Kevin, still in diapers, willfully baits his mother with curse words and destructive habits.  Eva barely responds except for the occasional outburst.  We catch glimpses of Kevin as a teen  (Ezra Miller) and the eerie atmosphere that surrounds him and the state of the family at that point.   The audience might begin to wonder, who is at fault here?  What hath Eva wrought?   Is Kevin an evil child?  An argument could be made for either side.  Is Eva devoid of maternal instincts?   Was Kevin born with sociopathic tendencies?

As further horrific events unfold throughout the film that question lingers.  Without revealing too much of the plot, Kevin’s behavior begins to cross a threshold that Eva may or may not be able to save him from.  Could or should Kevin have been raised differently?  Does Franklin coddle Kevin leaving Eva to be the disciplinarian?  Can Eva lover her son at all?

The weight of success for this movie lies in its performances.   As the central figure of the movie, Eva, Tilda Swinton pulls no punches.  Tilda has long been one of my favorite actresses.  Her award-caliber performance in “The Deep End” showed as a different kind of mother; one perhaps too devoted and loving of her son.  Here she presents a hauntingly different view.  She let’s us see Eva in total; all the warts.  Whether your sympathies lay with Eva depends largely on how you are interpreting the situation, and Swinton plays it perfectly.  Allowing the audience to come to their own conclusion as to the efficacy of her mothering.  John C. Reilly lends ample support as the father who tries his best to understand the divide between Eva and Kevin, but ultimately remains clueless.   Ezra Miller, delivers a breakthrough performance as

Ezra Miller as the Titular Kevin.

Kevin (incidentally the film also did an amazing job casting to younger Kevins, who both in look and demeanor echo Ezra’s performance perfectly).  Miller, whose young and ethereal good looks plays nicely against Swinton’s severe and handsome features, never lets on to who Kevin actually is.  We aren’t ever certain of his motivations.  Nor should we be.  If it were clear to use whether or not Kevin is a villain or a victim of horrible circumstance, then nothing in the film would be nearly as impactful.

Ultimately viewers may be left with twice as many questions as when they began “We Need To Talk About Kevin” and that may be unsatisfying for some.  For me, as the movie shows constantly with the use of red paint, red light, and other red symbols throughout, I’m left not knowing who has the blood on their hands.  I’m not sure the answer in film and certainly reality would ever be satisfying.

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