Lynne Ramsay’s film adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel “We Need to Talk about Kevin” derives its raw and brutal power from the fact that no one in this traumatic drama is blameless.
Like a series of nightmares from which the dreamer can’t awake, “We Need to Talk about Kevin” warps time, slithering back and forth between before and after. Often they merge explosively.
When we first encounter Eva (Tilda Swinton), she is deep in a pharma-induced dream about a tomato festival, slathered in red. Red is as much a character in the film as the characters themselves.
Once awake in the aftermath, Eva attempts to reclaim her shattered life. But her car and house are splattered in red paint. Following a job interview at a travel agency, a woman on the street slaps her in the face, leaving a red mark on her cheek.
The paint and the slap are because of Eva’s teenage sociopath son Kevin (Ezra Miller in a star-making performance). Inspired by Robin Hood, Kevin killed several of his high school classmates with a bow and arrow and used the weapon to murder his father Franklin (John C. Reilly) and younger sister Celia (Ashley Gerasimovich).
Was Eva a bad mother? Is she to blame? Early on, we see Eva struggling with her pregnancy, feeling detached from her newborn, being frustrated with her crying infant, experiencing great difficulty connecting with her child. Franklin, on the other hand, bonds with young Kevin (Rock Duer and later Jasper Newell). The boy appears to be acutely aware of the power that he holds over his parents and plays it like a pro beyond his years. The demon seed has been planted and is growing.
As the horrors mount, from Kevin’s refusal to be toilet-trained to his abuses of Celia, we see Eva’s helplessness, as well as her unspoken acceptance of her situation.
The latter increases and expands until it destroys her marriage and family.
Not an easy film to watch, “We Need to Talk about Kevin” will give you plenty to talk about. Special features on the double-disc Blu-ray/DVD edition include a “behind the scenes” featurette, an interview with Shriver and more.