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Eva Khatchadourian's a mother to piece together her life following an incident cause by her strange child, Kevin. Once a successful travel writer, s she's forced to take whatever job comes her way, and in spite of the increasingly bizarre and dangers things Kevin says or does. But Kevin's behaviours is only getting worse.Written by
"There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn't true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true." – Soren Kierkegaard
According to journalist Chris Hedges, "Those who cannot love are spiritually and emotionally dead. They affirm themselves through destruction, first of others, and then, finally, of themselves. Those incapable of love never live." This emotional deadness and inability to empathize with others is reflected in fifteen-year-old Kevin (Ezra Miller) in Lynne Ramsay's first film in nine years, We Need to Talk about Kevin, the chilling story of a sociopathic teenager who commits a horrendous crime (not explicitly shown), one for which his mother must endure the anger and resentment of the community.
Based on a novel by Lionel Shriver and co-written by Ramsay and Rory Stewart Kinnear, We Need to Talk about Kevin builds a fractured narrative told from the point of view of Kevin's mother Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton), a former big-city dweller who loved to travel and write books until she became a mother. Unfolding as if in a fevered dream and told in a stream of flashbacks and flash forwards, a now depressed and solitary Eva looks back at key emotional tripping points along her son's destructive journey.
At the outset, we are immersed in red, a frequent motif throughout the film. Here, we see a young Eva and other revelers bathed in a sea of tomatoes at a festival in Spain, which, in its orgy-like quality, is a hint of what is to come later. The scene then moves forward in time to a city intersection where the sound of a worker's drill creates a dissonant symphony with the unstoppable cries of Eva's infant son Kevin. Eva and her little boy (Rocky Duer, Jasper Newell) live in a well-to-do suburban house with husband Franklin (John C. Reilly) and little sister (Ashley Gerasimovich. These surroundings stand in sharp contrast to the box-like home in a run-down neighborhood where Eva is shown years later, a house spray-painted in red by outraged neighbors.
By the age of six, young Kevin has already become a master manipulator, refusing to speak and still wearing diapers. His deviously destructive behavior is directed towards his mother and he is skillful in knowing how to use it for maximum psychological effect. Though Eva takes him to a doctor, he simply reassures her that there is nothing physically wrong with Kevin, only that he may need more time to mature. No reason is provided for Kevin's behavior, but it is clear that Eva resents being a mother and this is made real by her apathetic self-pity. She tells him, "Before you were born, Mommy used to be happy!" Now Mommy wakes up every day and wishes she were in France!" Her frustration erupts when she throws Kevin against the wall, breaking his arm for his refusal to be toilet trained, not the best way to make an emotional connection.
She receives little support from her husband who refuses to believe that his son has severe emotional problems, but instead questions his wife's sanity. Instead of confronting the issues, Franklin ignores them, giving Kevin a toy bow-and-arrow set and later a high-powered bow, without any consideration of how they might be used. The father's lack of understanding prevents Kevin from being disciplined in the way that he should and there is no discussion of counseling with teachers or support groups, or professional therapy when it is obviously badly needed. Though the film's title is We Need to Talk about Kevin, apparently nobody thinks that that might be a good idea.
After the violence is committed, Eva has to cope with the contempt of her neighbors. She gets a job with a travel agency but is verbally berated by a co-worker (Alex Manette) at a company Christmas party. In an episode bordering on the surreal, Eva drives through a menacing crowd of Halloween trick or treaters to the background of Buddy Holly singing "Every Day." Mundane events such as walking down the street or shopping at a supermarket become fraught with danger. When two religious missionaries come to her door, she uses the opportunity to turn on herself, telling them that there is no point in talking because "I'm going straight to hell. Eternal damnation, the whole thing."
While We Need to Talk about Kevin is an engaging and often gripping film that offers outstanding performances by Swinton and Miller, it is torn between being an exploitative horror film and a psychological family drama and ends up not being very successful at either. Marred by its inability to decide whether to blame ineffective parenting for Kevin's behavior or to blame the fact that he was just born "evil," the film takes no stand at all, apparently throwing up its hands and saying, sometimes "bad" things happen for no reason, a dubious premise.
While some may see the film as wisely left open to interpretation, the fact is that there is little to go on in drawing any conclusion. Ramsay never really probes either side of the question, surfboarding over the waves and not dealing authentically with character motivation or development. Though, to its credit, the film displays an unanticipated forgiveness towards Eva by a school victim confined to a wheelchair, in its totality, We Need to Talk about Kevin is more of a display of rage, hatred, and victimization than an attempt to provide new insight or have us see the characters as flawed human beings rather than as spawns of Satan.
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