Based on a Lionel Shriver novel, Lynne Ramsay’s 2011 masterpiece We Need to Talk About Kevin is a film that handles many thematic strands with a skillful blend of the vibrant and the subtle. Interestingly, it also uses a powerful approach to examine nuanced ideas around the idea of maternity and parenthood.
Although the film revolves around the horrific actions of Kevin (Ezra Miller), the character of his mother, Eva (Tilda Swinton), is the centre of gravity and the nucleus of the film. Throughout, Eva is portrayed as supposedly failing to develop a meaningful emotional attachment to Kevin—in other words, to do the one thing society seems to expect of her as a mother. What is driving this is left impressively ambiguous as to whether Kevin’s growing sadism spurs from Eva’s growing revulsion, or vice versa. It is one of the darkest examinations of parenthood committed to film in recent memory, driven by an overbearing intensity of sounds and vision, punctuated only by Kevin’s malevolence and the consequences thereof.
Lynne Ramsay is one the greatest filmmakers working, and this film is the most crucial in establishing not only her technical credentials but her tonal mastery. We Need to Talk About Kevin deals with themes of motherhood in a manner that is neither stereotypically feminine nor aping a masculocentric viewpoint. There is an artful objectivity in the gaze of the film, steeped in bloody symbolism, but not one that renders the maternal angle moot. John C. Reilly’s guileless father is necessary in this regard, as despite her growing distrust, Eva retains far more agency in the story than the likes of the mothers in the reference points of Rosemary’s Baby or The Omen.
We Need to Talk About Kevin ends on a strangely bleak note of optimism, emblematic of the shades of morally ambiguous grey the film thrives on. The film’s themes and dread build until the conclusion pierces like an arrow to the heart.
We Need to Talk About Kevin is distributed by Oscilloscope and is available to stream on Amazon Prime, Google Play, Hulu, iTunes, Microsoft, Vudu and YouTube. Follow We Need to Talk About Kevin on Facebook.
Jim is a co-founder of TAKE ONE Magazine, and has written about film for various publications since 2010 including Film Inquiry, Roobla, and Little White Lies as well as reviewing film on local radio in Cambridge and Edinburgh. He is also a member of the submissions committee for film festivals including Cambridge and Edinburgh Shorts.