Photo Courtesy Oscilloscope/BBC Films
En español | I need to start this review with a viewer warning: We Need to Talk About Kevin is a dark, disturbing film that touches on territory from Rosemary's Baby — the relationship between a mother and her evil, murderous child. I believe that movies should be seen for reasons beyond entertainment, and that movies that make viewers uncomfortable often simultaneously make them think and are, therefore, often worthwhile.
Which is not to say that this film, which explores the influence of nature versus nurture on human development in a chilling way, is without flaw. Like so many movies this year, We Need to Talk About Kevin offers up a mesmerizing performance by its leading actor — in this case Tilda Swinton, an Oscar winner for her role in Michael Clayton — but the film as a whole is less satisfying than Swinton's character portrayal.
Based on the novel by Lionel Shriver and directed by the Scottish award-winner Lynne Ramsay, We Need to Talk About Kevin is told in stunning nonsequential images with limited dialog. The narrative unfolds mostly through the eyes of Eva Khatchadourian (Swinton), once an adventurous travel writer who grows increasingly subdued after marrying photographer Franklin (John C. Reilly, a wonderful actor who seems oddly mismatched with Tilton, which is perhaps the point). Eva sinks deeper into malaise after becoming pregnant, and when her son Kevin is born, it's clear that she's not sure she knows how to love him. In one memorable scene, she pushes a carriage carrying the screaming infant up to a roadside construction zone, his cries — and Eva's tension — drowned out by a jackhammer.
Kevin, played by Rock Duer as a toddler, novice Jasper Newell as a boy and the extremely talented Ezra Miller (also terrifically dysfunctional in Another Happy Day) as a teen, either acts out in response to his mother's ambivalence toward him or is the cause of Eva's ambivalence. It's the chicken and the egg conundrum. (Franklin, meanwhile, denies there's anything the matter with the boy.) After Kevin refuses to be potty-trained years after he is walking, becomes the likely source of household accidents involving his adorable younger sister and obsessively takes up archery, which results in the death of a pet, we realize his pathology is much more likely the result of nature than nurture.
Still, Eva blames herself for his nightmarish behavior, attempting to be a better mother to her sociopathic son long after he's committed the unspeakable. Simultaneously, she embarks on a journey of self-flagellation so searingly portrayed (I'll never forget the image of her turned ankle as she trips, in a drunken haze, over an empty bottle of Cabernet) you won't be able to tear your eyes away.
We Need to Talk About Kevin leaves a number of questions unanswered. Why is Franklin so oblivious? Why is the community so unkind? Why, in the end, does Eva stay? Still, can a film that explores what happens when your child hates you — and everyone else — ever fully satisfy?
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