[Spoiler Alert] Last Friday's limited theater release of We Need to Talk About Kevin is a great opportunity to catch an Oscar-worthy performance before the award show airs next month. It is also a great chance to talk about Kevin.
The film, despite a macabre series of murders and atrocities, was mesmerizing and I enjoyed every minute of it. The distinctive acting of Tilda Swinton, along with the menacing acting of Ezra Miller, are the highlights of this grim tale.
Scottish director Lynne Ramsay's film, which first premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, is her first feature in nearly a decade. Adapted from Lionel Shriver's 2003 novel, We Need to Talk About Kevin is a horror story about a timid mother and her psychotic son.
Ramsay and co-writer Rory Stewart Kinnear ditched the novel's series-of-letters approach and created a more broken, dreamlike narrative. The film's scattered narrative not only helps to intensify its mystery but also juxtaposes mother Eva's past happiness with her present anguish.
Though much of the imagery and subject matter is disturbing, Ramsay and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey's artistic visual's are hard to look away from. As in her previous two efforts (Ratcatcher and Movern Callar), an atmosphere of fear and despair pervades the film.
The film opens with a creepy shot of undulating curtains and then jumps to a surreal tomato festival. This scene, which is overwhelmed by the color red, is then brought to life after we find out that it is an image of the main character's yearning for her past.
It is the acting of Tilda Swinton that makes the movie stand out. Her character, Eva Khatchadourian, is a successful travel writer who falls into misery after the birth of her son, Kevin. Along with her caring husband Franklin (John C. Reilly), Eva must now abandon the career and apartment she loved for a child she hates.
It is through a clever use of flashbacks that we see Kevin grow up to be a troublesome teen. Eva's story is sporadically presented to us before and after her son's arrest.
From the very moment Kevin was born, the colicky boy (Rocky Duer) proved too much for Eva to handle. The infant's cries, which occur whenever he is with Eva, are among the first signs of his mysterious hatred for his mother.
As Kevin grows up (he is played in middle childhood by Jasper Newell and then as a teenager by Ezra Miller), he becomes increasingly more difficult for his mother to handle. The adolescent Kevin grows even more hostile and manipulative with the arrival of his opponent -- a younger sister (Ashley Gerasimovich).
Swinton brilliantly depicts Eva as a reluctant mother who longs for the past. In one telling scene, we see Eva holding her son next to a man with a jackhammer, muffling the sounds of her pestering infant.
It isn't until the end that Ramsay reveals Kevin's murderous rampage, which mirrors high school outrages like the 1999 Columbine tragedy. We watch as Eva lives as an outcast in the aftermath of Kevin's despicable crime. She frequently visits Kevin-- who eerily resembles the pale and lean Swinton in physical appearance -- in prison because he is the only thing left she has in the world.
But the film presents Eva as the culpable mother ad nauseam. A random woman gratuitously slaps her on the street and another woman cracks her eggs in a grocery store. Her house is doused with red paint symbolizing her own scarlet letter. This image of red, which is seen incessantly throughout the film, also acts as an obvious foreshadowing of her son's murders.
Although her life is in shambles, the audience is not made to feel complete empathy for Swinton's character. With the exception of taking her young son to a pediatrician, the mother never seeks professional help for her crazed son. Instead she allows for him to control and ruin her life.
Swinton, who won the 2007 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Michael Clayton, should undoubtedly receive an Oscar nomination for her riveting performance. Her portrayal of a woman who created the personification of the devil is both captivating and harrowing to watch.