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Raising a Monster: “We Need to Talk About Kevin”

Adapted from a novel by the same name, Lynne Ramsay’s new film, We Need to Talk About Kevin is a chilling portrayal of a mother who is forced to ask herself the question no parent should ever have to: is my child a psychopath? The concept of breeding evil children is certainly not new to film and has been explored in The Omen, Children of the Corn and more recently, The Good Son. However, We Need to Talk About Kevin takes a fresh approach to the formula and not only focuses on Kevin’s (Ezra Miller) disturbing personality but also on the trauma a parent is forced to endure because of their offspring. One of the most disturbing ideas the film explores is the possibility of someone being born with an inherently evil personality rather than being shaped by external factors such as their upbringing and environment.

The film follows a dysfunctional family, Eva (Tilda Swinton), her husband Franklin (John C. Reilly), their son Kevin and young daughter Celia (Ashley Gerasimovich). The story is mainly conveyed through Eva’s flashbacks and early scenes of her arriving at a crime scene foreshadow the events that eventually lead to tragedy. The tension between Eva and Franklin is exemplified early on, as she reluctantly agrees to put her career as a travel writer on hold and move to suburbia in order to start a family. Unfortunately, it quickly becomes clear to Eva that something is very wrong with Kevin and their relationship get substantially worse as the boy grows older. While Kevin displays intense hatred towards Eva and maliciously taunts her at every opportunity, he appears quite fond of his father. Kevin’s Jekyl/Hyde personality makes it ever more difficult for Eva to convince Franklin of their son’s psychotic tendencies. As the tension between Eva and Franklyn builds, Kevin’s frightening behaviour begins to spiral out of control.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is anchored around the magnificent performances of the delightfully strange Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller, who effectively embodies the cold-blooded and evil nature of Kevin. The film features some wonderful cinematography and an interesting art-house script, but mainly succeeds on the strength of the two aforementioned performances. Swinton masterfully channels Eva’s burden, anger, fear and sadness while Miller’s portrayal of Kevin is quite frightening. As strong as these performances are, the immensely talented John C. Reilly seems miscast as the naive husband, Franklin; I was never fully convinced of him and Swinton as a believable couple. Both Franklin and Kevin’s younger sister, Celia seemed like one-dimensional characters that were provided with very little screen time. However, the story is really about the relationship between Eva and Kevin; in this respect the film works extremely well. We Need to Talk About Kevin asks some very difficult questions and may strike fear into the heart of anyone considering becoming a parent, but the film is nevertheless worth seeing for Swinton and Miller’s exceptional performances as well as Ramsay’s unconventional method of storytelling.


Comments ( 6 )
  • Diego Christianson says:

    Tilda Swinton was really great in this one. And Kevin is the son I wouldn’t want to have. Thanks for the review!

  • Christian says:

    First off, I agree that the film was well acted. Tilda Swinton can (seemingly) do no wrong. The film was also well directed and produced, with your indie-arthouse shots.The use of red within the film was interesting. Great use of music.  

    With that said, it was a little frustrating to watch some “logistical” loopholes in the storyline. Despite a more than interesting premise, the story itself felt weak. I guess if these loopholes never existed, then we wouldn’t have a movie. There wouldn’t be conflict. But also, parts of the film never felt real because of it.

    1. Why didn’t she move? Finding a place and job in another (far away) city shouldn’t be too difficult. Driving to see your son is still reasonable.
    2. Her mothering techniques always seemed questionable. Sure it’s not easy to be a parent, but throughout the movie, it never felt like she was one.
    3. Maybe she should’ve just painted the porch.
    4. Her passivity was a little irritating. Okay, maybe that’s her character. But still. 
    5. There’s something inherently wrong with a husband who doesn’t listen to his wife. 
    6. Why does everyone hate her? She lost a daughter and husband too! (This is, unless of course, during the trial or whatever, she made herself look worse somehow). Then again, even Westboro Baptist members aren’t treated like that.
    7. John C. Reilly’s character is an idiot.
    8. Again, great acting, but it’s hard to root for an alcoholic who seems to be getting worse.
    9. After the “accident”, why on earth would they still let him shoot archery?!?
    10. I guess psychiatrists, guidance counsellors, social workers, marriage counsellors or any sort of mental health professional don’t exist in this film.

    There were a few other things too, but I suppose the focus was on the relationship between mother and son, so I’ll skip those. If the filmmaker(s) were trying to imitate or speculate reality, then I’d say that they fell a bit short.

    • Lesley says:

      These are all great points. I have read the novel  too and this review was spot on. The book is also amazing and will answer many of your questions. In most cases, the filmmakers were being true to the novel (she doesn’t move in the novel either, and her personality captured the charachter in the novel).

    • Anonymous says:

      Thanks for your comments Christian! You raise some very interesting points and I’m happy to respond. To your point about her moving, Eva did move (it obviously wasn’t the same house) but you have to consider the fact that she was still in a state of shock and wanted to remain close to the only family member she had left. In the end, you can see that she still deeply cared for Kevin – she was his mother after all.  Eva was not a great parent and certainly had problems of her own (I don’t think the audience was meant to root for her, it’s not that kind of movie) but regardless, Kevin’s personality was already beginning to take shape when he was merely a toddler and even though it seemed as though he loved his father and to a lesser extent his sister, he murdered them both. In the pivotal scene where Eva asks Kevin why he committed the crimes, he answers “I don’t know.” In other words, there is no one to blame or no simple explanation for why Kevin turned out the way he did. I completely agree with you about John C. Reilly’s character and addressed this in my review. Thanks again for your comments! 

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