A Movie To Talk About
Movie Review: "WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN"
Published: Thursday, March 8, 2012
Updated: Saturday, March 10, 2012 14:03
Let's get this out of the way: "WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN" is not for everyone. Lynne Ramsay's third film presents truly subversive ideas on topics that most films are never willing to broach: yes, on violence and evil, but most dangerously it challenges the sentimental attachment between child and parent. It presents the idea that perhaps your own son is nothing more than a stranger residing in your home, a cipher that you can never understand. It's a painful, fractured looked into a mind destroyed by hate, betrayal, and most of all by confusion – by the knowledge that nothing can ever be explained. And it's one of the first must-sees of 2012 for Boston film fans.
Ramsay showed off her ability for fractured editing and hallucinatory visuals in her previous film, "MORVERN CALLAR". And the first half-hour of "KEVIN" is a tour-de-force of disassociated visuals and primally driven memories, evocative of that previous film. Constantly spurred on by blood red color palettes, we see Tilda Swinton (as Eva) lost in a daze; Ramsay cutting between her courtship with husband Franklin in the past (played by John C. Reilly, whose trademark naiveté clicks perfectly with the themes here) and her racked by guilt in the present, all the memories cut together through color or repeated imagery. It's absolutely spellbinding; in fact my only complaint is that it ends. By the half-hour mark, we've settled into a far more ‘common' narrative, following Kevin's growth from constantly-crying toddler into a violent and destructive young man.
Luckily, Ramsay receding into a more traditional narrative structure is counter-balanced by the mastery of acting on hand from everyone in the picture. It should go without saying that Swinton disappears into the role of Eva, embodying mental illness without ever once resorting to cliché or over-dramatics in her ‘tics'. But it's the actors behind Kevin, played as an adolescent by Jasper Newell (whose stare is so blank, so evil, that I'll be surprised if he's not soon cast in an "EXORCIST" sequel) and later as a teenager by Ezra Miller, who truly shock. Miller, particularly, has no fear in his portrayal – there's more than one moment here (I dare won't spoil) that's sure to leave crowds with their mouths agape.
There's one last thing I forgot: this movie is really, really funny. The choppy structure tells us we're seeing memories from Eva's point-of-view, and this allows Ramsay to indulge in absurdities and dialogue that we would never accept at face value. At one point, Eva parks her crying baby's stroller next to a jackhammer, just for a moment of ‘peace and quiet'. At another, young Kevin displays impeccable bowel control just for the sake of spurning her. Even a broken arm is played for laughs. Ramsay sees the overt ridiculousness of her narrative, and rather than playing things straight, she gives into the absurdity – and it only heightens the surrealism, it only betters the tone.
"WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN" is a brilliant achievement of cinema: it's horrifying and hilarious, absurd yet relevant, scary but seductive. Sure, Ramsay may not be able to retain the unhindered energy of her first half hour (and those who wish she could need to hunt down "MORVERN CALLAR") but the slower burn provides for a greater payoff (which she washes out not in blood, but in light, once again spurning expectations.) It's amazingly engrossing; not just as a story but as an experience. Just don't invite your parents.