We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)
Maybe, it's the fact that this film touches every single parent it comes into contact with that garnered it enough plaudits to get the attention of the Academy at the last Oscars. Maybe each and every one of those parents saw something they recognised. Maybe they admitted it to themselves, maybe they didn't. Maybe they denied it. Regardless, there is something to be said for getting to the nub of the matter, and that is what Director Lynne Ramsey does here. This is not for the faint-hearted daisy-cutters amongst us. This is, at times, frighteningly realistic, refreshingly honest and dangerously cynical.
Celebrated travel writer Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton) is on an emotionally downward spiral when we first meet her. Living in a small house after the apparent separation from her husband, Franklin (John C Reilly) for an as yet unknown reason. We are introduced to the titular Kevin early on as she fails to bond with him when he is born. The next hour or so recounts the experiences she has with him as he is growing. He is an unusual child that screams almost incessantly as an infant, causing his Mother to become untethered and frayed at her edges. She even stands with the pram for a moment next to a man working with a pneumatic drill, just to drown out the sound of her child's never-ending protests. He refuses to speak to begin with, remains in nappies far beyond the time for potty training has been and gone and thwarts her attempts at parenthood at every single turn. Damien Thorn may have been the anti-christ, but he was subtle, as you would expect any direct descendant of the devil to be, but Kevin is something else, something more. He is defiant and sadistic beyond his years. At least, that is how his Mother, Eva, begins to see him from a very early age.
The heart of the story goes to some dark places that every responsible parent will have considered, if not (thankfully) actually experienced. Eva's lot is not a happy one, but even she herself is unable to grasp the reason why. It brings her to a nagging question of whether this was all her fault? Was it something she did, or didn't do? She has already convinced herself that she is not imagining Kevin's alternative approach to growing up long before the rest of the people around her. She understands that his actions are of his doing. But still, where did he learn to be the way he is?
This is Swinton's picture almost entirely and hardly anybody else gets so much as a look in of any note. Even Ezra Miller (Kevin as a teenager) is just flotsam. Whenever Swinton is on screen, she owns the thing completely. You feel for Eva from beginning to inexplicable ending and every tentative step she takes in between. For Swinton, the performance is a triumph, one that she has rarely bettered in all of her cinematics projects to date.
Lynne Ramsey has created a near masterpiece from Lionel Shriver's novel, which Shriver herself claims is a great adaptation. High praise indeed coming from the creator of such a difficult story to begin with, one that would have had as much difficulty with this literary baby as Eva had with her own. Ramsey is delicate and considered where applicable and even the pictures of seemingly unconfined terror are subdued, making Swinton the focus of the horror, rather than the horror itself. As mentioned, the questions the film asks are pertinent on a very organic level, and the film will be most appreciated by those with very young children of their own. Young enough, at least, not to be beyond correcting the parental mistakes they may feel they have already made.
It's a desperately tragic tale which could possibly have been avoided. Who knows? Ask Hitler's mother if he showed any sign of the monster he turned out to be when he was still a child and she would have told you 'no'. She would, at some point, have asked the same question as Eva and as every other parent that for a moment fails to understand the fruits of their own loins; was it me?