Released 2011. Director: Lynne Ramsay
WHAT MAKES A PERSON BAD? WHAT MAKES A CHILD UNRULY, unmanageable, even malevolent? Are some people born evil? Do psychopaths act out of nature or is their behaviour learned?
Baby Kevin cries and screams a lot, to the point that his exhausted mother finds the deafening sound of a jackhammer a relief. As a toddler, Kevin is uncooperative and unresponsive to his mother except for his piercing glare yet he is sweet to his father. In his teenage years, Kevin seems to go out of his way to upset his mother with his destructive behaviour.
We Need To Talk About Kevin is a disturbing family drama. It is unsettling because we see a deliberately manipulative and sadistic child in a regular family, as opposed to a horror movie like The Omen or any other that features a demon spawn in a supernatural setting.
The movie’s focus is on the mother, who tries her best to understand why her child is hellbent to make her life miserable. Tilda Swinton’s role of Eva is a difficult one – a mother loving and hating her own child, numb with weariness and becoming the most hated woman in town because of her son.
Eva puts her career in slow motion to raise a family. But she thinks the way Kevin is turning out might be her fault, so she has another baby though that’s not what her husband wanted. Her second child is a sweet-natured girl, nothing like her brother. Same parents, same parenting – so what is it with Kevin?
This movie adaptation is based on Lionel Shriver’s book, which is made up of a series of letters. Director Lynne Ramsay and editor Joe Bini made an interesting choice in presenting the movie like a jigsaw puzzle, with the past and present events shuffled to highlight the contrasting difference in Eva’s life.
When we first meet Eva, she is a woman shunned, living alone in a kind of determined abjection, a far cry from her wealthy, upper middle-class lifestyle earlier. There is a hint that something terrible happened that turned her life upside down, but we are kept in suspense until towards the end. Eva walks outside a shop; a woman comes up and slaps her but it is Eva who apologizes. This is a shocking picture of a mother doing penance for something her son has done.
As she did in The Deep End, Tilda Swinton once again finds the role of a mother in deep waters for her son and she rips right into its raging heart. We Need To Talk About Kevin is purposeful and forceful in dealing with a difficult situation. Eva shares the blame and doesn’t abandon her son, even when he’s full of
nothing but hatred and bile. She doesn’t leave town but hangs on to face never-ending taunts and ostracizing after Kevin’s horrific deed.
This is a movie of a disquieting calibre, as it evokes sympathy for one family member but revulsion for another. How far should parents go in sharing responsibility for their children’s heinous behaviour? Are parents ultimately accountable for their children’s actions?