kevin Tilda Swinton movie 311.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The amount of anxiety that children cause parents cannot be
overstated, but most of what we see portrayed in literature and drama are the
most trivial concerns: politeness, good grades, etc. There is a much darker side
that is rarely even discussed, and that is parents’ fear that their children
will turn out to be evil and utterly destroy their families’ lives.
that kind of evil child is portrayed on film, it is usually in the relatively
safe guise of satanic stories. In Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, it is
literally the devil that makes the children into malevolent forces. No one can
blame bad parenting for that.
But the film We Need to Talk About Kevin,
directed by Lynne Ramsay, takes the devil (and also God) out of the equation and
asks “Can a child be purely evil?” It hearkens back to the chilling but gimmicky
drama The Bad Seed
, in which a superficially angelic little girl is capable of
hellish deeds, even murder.
Based on a disturbing novel by Lionel
Shriver, We Need to Talk About Kevin
focuses on a seemingly unexceptional family
in a similarly bland American suburb, where the teenage son commits horrible
We see both what led up to them and how his mother struggles to
cope in the aftermath. Both the movie and the novel were clearly inspired by the
massacres at Columbine and other US high schools. But while the film is powerful
and meticulously crafted, it is flawed by a fundamental lack of authenticity and
a tendency to offer easy answers.
Tilda Swinton gives a skillful
performance as Eva, the mother, but she’s not an easy actress to warm up to. Her
pinched, pained face shows tension from the first second, even in the scenes
when she is pregnant with Kevin. Are we meant to think that even then she knew
she was carrying a damned child? The family seems to exist in utter isolation,
even when Kevin is first born and they live in New York City. There are no
friends, neighbors or extended family who play any part in their lives. Perhaps
the director is making a point about how alone many new mothers feel or is
poetically exaggerating the family’s isolation to show how their son separates
them from the rest of the world.
But it still feels
The character of Kevin is problematically conceived in that
he is utterly bad from day one.
Even as a toddler, he taunts his mother;
and as an older child, he is as willfully difficult as he can possibly be. He
displays an inhuman consistency. There are no moments when he is needy, anxious
or vulnerable. In a certain way, this is a seductive fantasy. It would be
tempting to think that those kids who carry out armed attacks on their high
schools are marked by evil behavior from birth, but the sad truth about these
murderers is that they were generally considered troubled, scared and confused
and often had been bullied. This is not to excuse their actions, of course, but
to emphasize that they are not some completely alien form of life. A kid who
picks up a gun and starts shooting is often not so different from the kids who
don’t. And that’s a terrifying truth that this movie, which portrays Kevin as
hell-bent on causing all the destruction he can with the sang-froid of a
contract killer, refuses to confront.
John C. Reilly as Franklin, the
boy’s father, is as good as he can be in a film that requires his character to
be clueless in every scene. He and Swinton make for an oddly matched couple, and
he doesn’t seem to fit in with the beige-and-white toned minimalism of the huge
suburban house where they live for most of the movie.
Kevin is played by
three actors: Rock Duer as a toddler, Jasper Newell as a child, and Ezra Miller
as an adolescent, and they all give haunting performances.
But the movie
is at its best when it focuses on Kevin’s mother after the tragedy, and Swinton
is believable as a woman who has lost everything. The next time you feel like
bragging about your wonderful kid’s accomplishments, keep in mind that the
listener may be Kevin’s poor mother.WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN
Directed by Lynne Ramsay.
Written by Ramsay
and Rory Kinnear, based on the novel by Lionel Shriver Hebrew title: ‘Hayavim
Lidaber al Kevin’ Running time: 112 minutes.
In English with Hebrew