What makes a killer? Is it a trait inherent from birth? Is it the way a child was raised? “We Need to Talk About Kevin” may not definitively answer those questions, but it explores them so dramatically and artistically that you’ll never forget them.
“Kevin,” directed by Lynne Ramsay, tells the story of Eva Khatchadourian as she struggles to come to terms with her parental guilt after her son Kevin, 16, kills seven people at his school. In her desperate need to understand her son, she flashes back to specific moments in their lives.
Tilda Swinton delivers a performance as Eva that is both deeply emotional and multi-layered. Eva’s obviously completely unprepared for motherhood. Kevin, as a baby, won’t stop crying. Eva tries to calm him down, but is eventually so frustrated she opts to stand next to a construction site in order to drown out her baby’s cries.
By the time Kevin’s a young child, Eva’s no less unstable. She approaches Kevin and tells him she resents him and her role as a mother. By now, it’s hard to not wonder how much of Kevin’s actions are the results of his upbringing.
Eva’s husband, Franklin, doesn’t help matters at all. Franklin, played by John C. Reilly, refuses to believe anything is wrong. It’s never clear whether Franklin honestly thinks everything is fine or if he’s in denial, but it almost doesn’t matter because of the personality Reilly brings to the character.
While much more restrained than in films like “Step Brothers,” Reilly still injects his scenes with humor. When his character is trying to potty train Kevin, Reilly’s voice can be heard in the background, cheerfully shouting words of encouragement. Yet, these slices of humor actually make the film creepier. Especially when they’re sandwiched between Kevin’s darker scenes.
Played by Ezra Miller, Kevin is arguably one of the darkest and most well-written young characters anytime recently. Miller manages to convey a sense of barely restrained psychopathy so well that at times it becomes almost uncomfortable to watch.
In one of the film’s eeriest scenes, a teenaged Kevin is practicing with a bow and arrow in the family’s backyard. Amazingly, Ezra Miller is able to keep his acting so subtle during that scene that it wraps back around to unsettling.
The way his lips curl into a tight smile every time his arrows hit the target or the way his blinking — of all things — just doesn’t seem quite right, any number of small details like those paint the picture of a disturbed individual.
Yet the film seems less focused on showing a different side of Kevin, like it does with Eva. While the latter is shown trying her best to connect with her son, especially during his early life, the film never goes out of its way to convince viewers that Kevin was not always disturbed.
When Kevin, as a toddler, glares at his mother with a look of contempt that would make Hannibal Lecter proud, it’s difficult to believe he’s just a misunderstood boy being shaped by his upbringing. It’s damaging to the film’s “nature vs. nurture” narrative and leaves one wishing for more insight into Kevin as a character, however disturbing it may be.
And really, how much more disturbing can it be, when the film elements themselves are unsettling enough. Red is a constant color throughout the film, losing all connotations except that of blood and violence.
The simple act of Kevin making himself a sandwich with strawberry jelly takes on an entirely new meaning after almost an hour of being bombarded with red as a violent and bloody color.
Eva also surrounds herself with the color, even wearing it multiple times, as though it’s something she can’t escape.
Not only does the film assault your sense of sight, it also attacks your sense of hearing. As Kevin grows up and becomes more and more invested in practicing with his bow and arrow, the film focuses almost exclusively on the sound the arrows make when they hit the target.
Every dull thud is magnified to the point where it drowns out the rest of the soundtrack. It’s as unsettling as anything because it starts to resemble the sound of bodies being hit. And then realization sets in.
So, then, what makes a killer? Ultimately, the answer won’t come from “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” But one thing is certain: “Kevin” is going to be talked about for a long time to come.Contact Carlos Serrano.