The book that this film, We Need to Talk About Kevin, was based on has been on my reading pile for a while now, but I recently got round to seeing the film to hopefully inspire me to actually pick it up! I personally really liked the film – especially the way that flashbacks were used continuously throughout to challenge the viewer and disorientate them. I understand that this filmmaking tool is not to everyone’s taste, as it can be seen as simply ‘disjointed’ and confusing things, but I thought that it worked well to tell the story and set the ‘dismal’ tone from the very beginning. I feel that if you found to hard to get to grips with the constant shifting in time then look for indicators which help pinpoint where we are in the story – I personally recommend Tilda Swinton’s hair length! By not having this film told in perfect linear order, it immediately makes itself clear that it is by no means a schmaltzy tale which ends in dance number, in fact, it’s all rather tragic. The film basically is about a troubled relationship between mother and son, resulting in absolutely disastrous consequences. I won’t give away the ending of this one but I’ll give a hint and say that the film’s release in Norway was postponed in the light of the Anders Breivik terrorist attacks…
Both Ezra Miller (who plays the ‘older’ Kevin – the film does span from when he’s born to when he’s a teenager) and Tilda Swinton (who plays the mother) give excellent performances which are wonderfully gripping to watch. The emotional battle which occurs between the two of them make for very intense viewing, and even manage to match the strength of the final horrific violent event which is the film’s climax. I personally thought that the storyline was a really interesting one as it’s not something I’ve really seen a film about before (the closest I can think of would be Gus Van Sant’s Elephant) although I’m aware that a lot of people have complained that the plot was lacking proper character motivations and any proper ‘substance’. But first of all, as the film was based on a book written first, perhaps it is the book that should be blamed for these flaws and not the film. I also think that the story kept enough ‘realistic’ aspects to be deemed plausible, as I’m sure anyone who’s ever been a teenager or raised one will spot at least one familiar event that they can relate to.
Another claim which has been made about Lynne Ramsey’s (director) film is that it is essentially exploring ‘the growing distrust and fear of masculinity’. This presumption is based on the fact that the two males which are featured in the film are Kevin, who’s pretty much a psychopath, and his dad, who is constantly ignorant and outwitted by his son. Maybe this was the intention of the film, if one takes into account that violence is a predominantly male trait (and most, if not all, high school shootings to date have been done by males). However, I personally think the film is more about the notion of whether people are born bad or if their behaviour is due to how they are raised – the age-old debate of nature vs nurture. This is never truly ‘answered’ in the film, but it does offer the opportunity for viewers to form their own opinions on the matter, which is also an important part of the experience. It is interesting to see throughout the film the attempts from the mother to love her son despite his odious demeanour, to hide her hatred from him, even when he was just a baby. There’s a particularly good scene where she is standing beside a pneumatic drill with Kevin in the crib, just to get a break from his incessant crying. I think this small example manages to sum up their relationship well, and the viewer really gets the sense of hopelessness that the mother feels.
The visuals and the music for the film give it a really ‘arty’ feel and I admire the work that went into this film, making it stand out a whole lot more than just your bog-standard ‘psychological horror’. It is more sophisticated and subtle in its execution than a lot of other films in the same ‘genre’. I believe that it manages to be more disturbing than every one of those splatter movies which are so common in the American horror industry at the moment, simply because it is set in the ‘real world’ and deals with ‘real life issues’. I strongly recommend this film, though one should watch it prepared for a chilling viewing experience. However, it succeeds in being so captivating that almost immediately you find yourself hungry to see it through till the end!