We need to talk about Kevin

The mother of a teenage boy who went on a high-school killing spree tries to deal with her grief — and feelings of responsibility for her child’s actions — by writing to her estranged husband.

Having kids changes everything. Remember the tender scene in Lost in Translation where Bill Murray informs Scarlett Johansson that, once you do, “Your life as you know it is gone, never to return?” He goes on to wax poetic about the ways children change things for the better and “turn out to be the most delightful people you’ll ever meet.” This is the way it’s supposed to work.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is about what can happen when it doesn’t. Tilda Swinton delivers a raw and riveting performance as a woman whose life is transformed by the experience of motherhood into a waking nightmare. Eva Khatchadourian, we ascertain through flashbacks, was something of a reluctant parent, a successful travel writer not particularly eager to give up globe-trotting for an extended stay in suburbia.

But that’s where she finds herself after marrying her genial boyfriend, Franklin, hearing the pitter-patter of little feet and trading her Manhattan loft for a McMansion. In her firstborn’s first months, Eva is unsettled by the sound of his nearly constant crying. What makes the sound particularly unsettling is the eerie fact that the boy wails only in Eva’s presence. In a telling scene, she holds the baby in front of her face and forces a fake smile to assuage him.

It’s a key moment because, the next thing we know, Kevin is 6 and faking smiles of his own. When they’re alone, he torments his mother in any number of ways. He glares at her demonically. He goes all Jackson Pollock on a room she’s just decorated. He mocks her attempts at toilet training, soiling a fresh diaper just as she’s finished changing a full one. Yet, in the second it takes for the door to open and Franklin to enter the home, Kevin’s expression changes from menacing to cheerful.

Three actors play the boy at different stages. Rock Duer’s a shoo-in if they ever make Satan: The Toddler Years, and Jasper Newell manages to project an aura of pure evil even in pull-ups, but it’s Ezra Miller as the adolescent Kevin who makes you believe you’re in the presence of an American monster. This is one of the past year’s most underpraised performances.

The film is the latest from the Scottish director Lynne Ramsay and has been adapted from the celebrated novel by Lionel Shriver. Ramsay has scrambled the chronology to make clear from the beginning that an atrocity of some sort has been committed at the local high school and that, in its aftermath, Eva has become a psychologically shattered pariah. She spends much of the film reliving the events that led to her son’s violent act in an effort not only to comprehend it but to determine the degree to which she may have been complicit. You might call it the mother of guilt trips.

We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011) Trailer

With the possible exception of Melancholia, this is the darkest picture hitting mainstream cinema last year. It’s also one of the most masterfully crafted, superbly acted and brilliantly written. Ramsay has few contemporary peers when it comes to conveying a theme or evoking a mood through visuals — a gift that’s become rare in cinema — and We Need to Talk About Kevin offers a feast of striking images. It’s a one-of-a-kind tale of domestic horror. If you appreciate fearless moviemaking that grapples with the modern world’s tougher truths, it’s a film you need to see.

IMDb | Wikipedia | Review by Seven Days | Screenies by Loco Luke

27 thoughts on “We need to talk about Kevin”

  1. I had to replay this a number of times as I often could not make out what was said. Also the film was fast paced and fragmented. I could not make out what the boy was looking at on his computer. My first thought was a question. Was if this was an adopted baby who was badly abused?

  2. Was that the boy or mum on the computer, hard to tell. Man I hate her haircut, she just isn’t a warm and loving mum at all. Perhaps the boy is adopted, I just can’t imagine her having sex, at least with a man…

    1. Because short haircuts make women look like lesbians, and everybody knows that lesbians never make good mothers.

  3. Based on what I have researched on the book and the movie I doubt that either would be a realistic account of a seriously morbid psychopathic character.

    1. This was a great book, I did not see the movie. However, I would have to agree with you Bruce. One only has to come into the presence of a sociopath or psychopath to know how they can freeze the blood in your veins, encountering them as adorable-looking children is a profoundly disturbing experience.

  4. Tilda Swinton and Erza Miller are, in my estimation, both v-e-r-y good at their craft, and unless the director and producers are totally awry, this could be a very good flick indeed!
    What was the last movie Erza M was in, I forget?
    Anyways, thanks for the post Josh, and to Declan for the find.

    1. I think Ezra’s last movie was Everyday where he plays a very much out gay 16 year old who sneaks out to go to a party with his college student boyfriend who tries to rape him. Before that he was in City Island where he plays a teen who goes on web sites to hook up with fat girls, now he is filming The Perks Of Being A Wallflower (maybe it’s wrapped by now) with only slightly less hot, Logan Lerman, where he plays … a gay teenage boy.
      He recently was busted for weed but got the charges knocked down to disorderly conduct or some such thing.

      1. sounds like Ezra is a talented hottie to keep in mind… not to mention the penchant for strange characters and weed

  5. The movie is one you need to see several times as it is easy to miss bits. As already said, it is quite fragmented and jumps around. Mums a bit of a troll, from her severe haircut to her hammer toes. The boy is pure evil. It could have been a retake of Omen. He is cute though, as are the actors that played him earlier in life. I don’t know why she even bothers to visit him in prison, he manipulates her at every turn.

  6. Great cast – the actors conveyed a range of emotions with minimal dialogue.

    Thx for the info on the movie – enjoyed it!


  7. I’d be much more interested in the movie/book if it was based on real-life events. There always seems to be this adult fascination with teen movies where the young adults get slashed/killed or put in circumstances where they go ‘bad’. In the 50’s/60’s/70’s is was a relief valve for those that didn’t think teens deserved anything better than a ‘bad’ fate if they were ‘bad’-it was moralistic drivel. Now I think it’s just pandering to a certain audience.

  8. Ezra Miller is so hot and very talented. This was actually my favourite movie from last year. It’s the only one that really stuck out and grabbed me in some way.

  9. “I don’t feel like there’s any need to hide the fact that I smoke pot. It’s a harmless herbal substance that increases sensory appreciation.”

    Got to love that young man :)


  10. For those of you who loved the movie but who’ve never read the book – and of course hoping that you like to read, in general – the book is absolutely about as good, chilling, and eye-opening as they come, period. I have yet to see the movie (will probably order the DVD soon….it also comes highly recommended), but for real, the book was very hard to put down, very very well written, and was about the most accurate portrayal of this kind of personality that one could imagine, astoundingly enough, as a fiction work.
    HIGHLY recommend the book, as well.

  11. Thanks for recommending this. I’ve just finished the movie. Great work indeed.
    I’ve never had the displeasure of meeting a true psychopath myself, but I’ve read stories from a person who grew up with one. That was the most shocking, terrifying and depressing read I’ve ever encountered, and I have to admit, in this case, fiction doesn’t even hold a candle to the very real evils such a young person is capable of. That said, as a work of fiction, it works really well, especially regarding the mother’s side of the story.

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