We Need To Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, 2011)

13Nov11

Tilda Swinton (Eva), Ezra Miller (Kevin), John C. Reilly (Franklin). Screenplay by Lynne Ramsay et al. Directed by Lynne Ramsay. Running time: 112 minutes.

Good Lord. If you had plans to have kids soon, you might want to put them on hold if you’re really set on seeing this. If you already have one due, definitely avoid the film at all costs. Maybe after a week or so everything will go back to normal, but I have a feeling there’s the potential here for this one to haunt for a while, and the horror is of the worst kind. Quite simply, it’s going to make you even more frightened than you already were about raising children.

The film gives us sufficient reason to deduce this early on, so trust me when I say I’m not spoiling anything by telling you from the outset where Kevin is heading: we know the son that is the subject of the film will grow to commit a Columbine-style high school massacre once a teenager, but the real focus is the mother, played unsurprisingly remarkably by Tilda Swinton (an Oscar nomination at the minimum is a must). We start with her guilt-laden, intolerable life in the aftermath before beginning to oscillate between the present and the past, increasingly sticking with the latter. Eventually it’s just the latter, and so what we have is an exercise in the insane – a film attempting to impose rational order on the creation of a psychopath. The question is why he developed this way, and the impossibility of such an explanation ensures the answers are on the scarce side. There’s only hints of a causal story. He develops a keen interest in Robin Hood story tales and practising archery from an early age, but when we realise the same could be said of any kid, we know that really we’re merely engaging in faux-rationalisation.

So the more interesting question becomes one of where, if anywhere, blame can be laid, and naturally the first port of call is the mother, not only for the families of the victims but also for the guilt-stricken mum herself. Is this rational? I think we’re led to think – no, but in a way it’s beside the point. Regardless of whether you’re responsible, it’s going to be hard to separate yourself from identifying with your child’s crimes for the rest of your life. It’s a curious but all too true fact that one’s happiness is in no shape or form within one’s own hands. The film shows the actions of another can obliterate it overnight.

It all makes for a painful, harrowing watch, and by painful I mean, roughly, nauseating. An ibuprofen or two is a real option by the end. It’s truly staggering just how much hatred for a child the film manages to conjure up in us, and it’s probably only the antidotal upbeat music (Buddy Holly and the Beach Boys) that holds us back from the precipice. The only problem we’re forced to ponder is how plausible this picture is of a woman that stoically puts up with a child from hell for over fifteen years. Swinton conveys a fair dollop of despair, but somehow we don’t see her weep once.

Ultimately, though, we leave quietly haunted by this frighteningly, inexplicably senile child, and we wonder how we managed to witness a horror film that had more impact than any cheap jump-tricks could muster. It might even be enough to put the fainthearted off the prospect of parenting for life.

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