Based on Lionel Shriver’s best selling novel of the same name, We Need To Talk About Kevin tells the story of a mother who constantly struggles with her unloving son. Tilda Swinton stars as Eva, and her tale is told both in the present day as she tries to come to terms with her son Kevin’s (Ezra Miller) actions, and through flashback to their life as Kevin grew up.
Lionel Shriver’s novel used the device Eva’s letters to her ex-husband to tell the story, but director Lynne Ramsey dispensed with his idea and built the film on short flashbacks. As Eva thinks back over her life the audience learns of her resistance to motherhood.
As always, Tilda Swinton is in fantastic form as Eva. She is both ferocious and shattered by the son she tried desperately to love. In her isolation, it is obvious that Eva wonders whether her child is simply evil, or whether her reluctance to have a child has somehow rubbed off on him. Swinton portrays Eva like an injured animal; in private, she nurses her wounds and mourns her self-imposed confinement. In public, however, Eva is fiercely protective of herself. It is this nuanced balance that makes Swinton’s performance so mesmerising.
Ezra Miller and Jasper Newell play Kevin throughout his life and create a manipulative child who is very much aware of the power he holds over his despairing mother. John C. Reilly as Eva’s husband Franklin is the opposite of Eva; where she struggles to come to terms with this child that has trapped her, Franklin excels as a father. When Kevin abruptly switches his affection from Franklin to his mother, his hurt is palpable. While he does not have a lot to do on screen, Reilly’s character is absolutely necessary to show that Kevin’s behaviour is deliberate.
Lynne Ramsey has created a bleak film that is heavy in symbolism. The colour red is everywhere around Eva; neighbours throw red paint at her house which she desperately scrubs from her hands; she loses herself in tomatoes at a Spanish festival. This may seem obvious, but the colour defines Eva’s feelings about Kevin and herself as a mother, and much needed colour to the screen.
In all, We Need To Talk About Kevin is subjective; we only ever know the story from Eva’s perspective, and as her opinions of her life, her choices and herself sway, so do the audiences. Is Eva to blame for her son’s rage and dysfunction, or did she do everything she could to provide a loving environment for her first born child? Ramsey leaves it up to us to decide. We Need To Talk About Kevin is far from a cheerful watch, but Swinton’s performance, and the gruelling subject matter make it a fascinating film for anyone who has ever been a parent… or a child.