Saturday, 22 October 2011
We Need To Talk About Kevin
We Need to Talk About Kevin opens with a scene that is visually beautiful and visceral -an aerial shot of a huge, semi-naked crowd covered in thick, menstrual sludge. A young woman, Eva (Tilda Swinton), fixed in a cruciform position, is passed above the heads of the crowd. And, then, as you are trying to make sense of the image you, suddenly, find its context: a Spanish Tomato festival. It’s a brilliant prologue, a perfectly crafted visual image used to maximum impact but without any whiff of sensationalism. In this image, all the major themes of We Need to Talk About Kevin are contained: the relationship between the crowd and Eva, the crucifixion of that woman due to the unspeakable crime of her teenage son and the effects of that bloodbath.
Based on Lionel Shriver’s popular and acclaimed novel, We Need to Talk about Kevin is the account of a mother’s disintegrating relationship with her sociopathic son. When Kevin goes on a killing spree in his High School, his mother is blamed for his behaviour and becomes one of the most reviled figures in America.
Each scene in Lynne Ramsay’s film has a jagged edged ferocity. Using a fragmented narrative that time travels between Kevin as a baby, a child and a teenager, Ramsay makes the audience work hard at piecing together the images so that they form a cohesive narrative. A lesser director would build scene upon scene in a conventional narrative manner, leading us to the final carnage in the school gymnasium. Ramsay takes a sledgehammer to this approach and, instead, drip feeds our minds with images and scenes throughout the film so that our imaginations automatically create the final horror without any aid. This is brave and bravura filmmaking.
The performances are also exceptional. Tilda Swinton is all fearful, brittle emotion and dead-eyed despair for her son and, in the end, for her own tragic fate. One scene has her prepare an omelette made from the eggs a neighbour has vindictively smashed. In an act of self-punishment for her son’s crime, she mechanically spits out the shards of eggshell from every mouthful. Jasper Newell as the young Kevin shows how children can use their affections and intelligence to manipulate and pit one parent against another. Ezra Millar, as the teenage Kevin, is both charismatic and terrifying, all teenage cool but with something toxic and hateful beneath the surface. This is a young man who has lost all sense of what might be described as “personhood”.
We Need to Talk About Kevin is chilling – visually and psychologically. If you are looking for a popcorn, Saturday night gore-fest then this is not it. We Need to Talk About Kevin requires that you fill in the gaps, make connections, question assumptions. I don’t think that this is a film that you could love but it is a film so clinically rendered that it is impossible to ignore. It reminded me of Andy Warhol’s car crash paintings (and there is a blatant visual reference to Warhol in the film) – horrible, but mesmerising and desperately sad. As much as you may not want to, you just can’t look away.