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April 14, 2012 | 11:25 a.m. CST
We Need to Talk About Kevin is the story of a mother, Eva (Tilda Swinton), tortured by her first-born son, Kevin (Ezra Miller), who tortures the audience as well. With painfully tight close-ups of oozing sandwiches, nails-on-a-chalkboard pitched blades against glass and an excruciating sense that something very, very bad is going to happen, this film keeps viewers squirming in their seats, waiting to exhale when the tension ends.
Through a series of fragmented, disjointed scenes director Lynne Ramsay shows how happy Eva was before having Kevin with husband Franklin (John C. Reilly). Kevin, as a screeching baby implants in his mother a sense of foreboding. Forced from the city into the confines of suburbia, the lines between nature and nurture begin to blur. Is Eva’s paranoid belief that Kevin is evil, manipulating her and buttering-up his father, a result of the pain she went through during labor and the anguish she experienced as he wailed or is it something more, something more sinister in his make-up?
The casting of Kevin, from toddler to teen is superb. Never once is there a question as to whether the toddler who refuses to roll a ball (Rock Duer) is the same teen who purposefully infects his snooping mother’s computer with malware. The film’s timeline is rocky, jolting from Kevin’s upbringing to an act of school violence that leaves Eva an outcast in her community, shunned for what her son did. The character Swinton inhabits is multi-layered, a complex case study of parenthood and deserving of the Golden Globe nomination and other nods she received.
Threaded throughout, like a latent sociology lesson, is the question of the parent to child bond and the kinds of boys-will-be-boys behavior we’re often quick to dismiss. However, after the painful experience of viewing this film, the commentary on society is not enough reward.