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Review: We Need to Talk about Kevin (2011)

Director: Lynne Ramsay | 112 minutes | drama, thriller | Actors: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller, Siobhan Fallon, Ursula Parker, Ashley Gerasimovich, Leslie Lyles, Joseph Melendez, Kimberley Drummond, Lauren Fox, Jennifer Kim, James Chen, Jasper Newell, Suzette Gunn,

How would Eric Harris’s mother feel? Or Dylan Klebold’s? Or that of countless other teens and young adults responsible for mass murders in schools and shopping centers? Do they feel guilty because they think they have failed as a mother? Do they struggle with their feelings because they wonder if they could have prevented the carnage? Couldn’t they have seen it coming? Exactly those questions haunt the mind of Eva Katchadourian (Tilda Swinton). Her son Kevin has been a difficult child from birth. As he grew older, he also became more and more unmanageable, manipulative and unpredictable. At 16, he murdered nine classmates in his high school gym. The relatives of the victims have been vomiting her ever since; they hold her responsible for her son’s actions. And she actually feels it exactly that way.

“We Need to Talk about Kevin” (2011), based on Lionel Shriver’s novel of the same name, shows Eve’s battle with both her own demons, but also how she tries to cope with the wrath of the outside world. On paper it is a difficult novel to film, because the story is told through letters that Eva writes to her estranged husband Franklin (played by in the film). Director Lynne Ramsay solved this problem by making frequent use of flashbacks. As in the book, the events are not always told in chronological order. Ramsay scrambled the events and relies on the intelligence of her viewers to put the puzzle pieces in the right place themselves. She lets them get under the skin of Eve and feel her fears, sorrows and tensions. Eva is a walking wreck, even though she tries to pick up her life again in good spirits. Ever since she knew she was going to be a mother, she has been torn by doubts. Through the flashbacks we learn that she is not exactly lucky with the unruly Kevin.

The strength of “We Need to Talk about Kevin” is the ambiguous way in which Eva herself is approached. Because she herself does not exactly go free. There are plenty of examples that show that she has a lot of trouble with motherhood and does not always make the right choices. Characteristic is a scene in which she is so disturbed by the screeching of baby Kevin that she takes the stroller to a construction site. She’d rather listen to a rattling jackhammer than listen to Kevin’s howl for a minute longer: the relief is in her face. When he’s older and still getting the blood from under her nails, she hits him a broken arm on a whim. Then of course she feels guilty. Kevin cleverly plays the game. He surpasses his mother on all fronts. It goes so far as to make Eve afraid of him, although she tries not to let him know. Teenage Kevin is portrayed with great conviction – and in a terrifying way – by Ezra Miller. The young actor gives veteran Swinton a great party, but and Rock Duer, who play Kevin at a younger age, are also strong. However, Swinton remains the unsurpassed star of this film. At first, it takes her little effort to win the viewer’s sympathy, but as the history unfolds, you begin to question her good intentions and her innocence more and more.

Ramsay’s is not an easily digestible food. Her approach is courageous and may seem a bit pretentious to some viewers, for example due to the profusion of symbolism (for example, note how the color red is woven into the film – sometimes full-screen, sometimes very subtle). “We Need to Talk about Kevin” gets its strength not only from its complexity, but also from the stunning acting of Miller and especially Swinton. It must be strange if the ruddy Scottish actress does not get an Oscar nomination for this role. Her suffering goes through the marrow and you feel sorry for her, but the feeling constantly gnaws that she herself has at least contributed to the desolate situation in which she finds herself now. “We Need to Talk about Kevin” is a film that gets under your skin and makes you feel uncomfortable. Fascinating and disturbing at the same time.

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