We Need To Talk About Kevin

Seriously, we need to talk about Kevin.

I apologize for my five best movies of 2011 list. I didn’t end up seeing all the critically acclaimed films at the tail end of the year and that list is primarily composed of the movies I could scrounge up that I thought were worthy of consideration. Understandably, that list will probably change as I see more 2011 movies – especially once I see Shame and Take Shelter, both of which I’ve heard are incredible – and now, with We Need to Talk About Kevin – which definitely earns a spot as one of the best of 2011.

There was a big fuss when the Oscars were announced that Tilda Swinton wasn’t nominated for the Best Actress award for her role in this movie. After seeing it, I can understand why. Instead of Meryl Streep winning the award for an impersonation in a mediocre movie, Swinton could’ve won it for a complex and nuanced character in a challenging film. Maybe it happened in another timeline.

To boil We Need To Talk About Kevin down I would say that it bears a passing resemblance to The Omen (creepy, evil child) without the supernatural explanation. Kevin could be anyone’s child – there is no satanic meddling that shapes him – and that’s probably the most frightening aspect of the film. It may not be just an ordinary, sweet little boy that you give birth to. It could be someone like Kevin.

The story is told in a juxtaposition of the past and present. In the present, Swinton’s character is pale, alone, and tired-looking, almost as if she’s a vampire victim drained of her blood. In the past, she has a good-natured husband (John C. Reilly), a sweet young daughter and her son Kevin (Ezra Miller). There’s obviously some event that has irrevocably changed things and the film slowly peels back the layers to reveal the story.

The first image of the film is Swinton’s character at her happiest, but it is framed in such a haunting way that it is an elegy for her joy rather than a celebration of it. She’s deeply ambivalent about motherhood as she sits in the locker room after a Lamaze class, quietly sitting while the other mothers share in their excitement. She has trouble bonding with Kevin after he is born. He cries all the time around her but is silent around his father. As he ages, he has no interest in his mother, and if he does, it’s only to torment her. Think of Problem Child, but without the laughs or the redemptive arc of the orphan child who acts out only because he wants to be loved. That’s Kevin.

We Need To Talk About Kevin is a difficult experience to get through. It’s unsettling, distressing, and leaves you with a feeling of anxiety and unease. One of the things I wondered throughout the film was whether the torture Tilda Swinton is put through throughout the movie is almost cosmic justice for giving birth to Kevin. Is the universe punishing her for becoming a mother? Or is it punishing her because of her lack of enthusiasm and her inability to bond to with her child? Perhaps neither of these things – perhaps I’m just looking for an easy explanation or reason for the character’s pain and suffering where none exists. She suffers because she’s there.

Grade: A

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