Past and present filtered delicately amongst a MTV music video style cinematography; at first the images seem rather obscure and unintelligible, as if director Lynne Ramsay wanted you like a surrealist painting to construct your own meaning and interpretation. However what eventually becomes obvious is the peeling back of a disturbed woman’s painfully and thinly a crafted veneer. As the fog of mystery begins to disappear we encounter a woman wrought with bad memories, tortured by regret and racked with guilt. Similar to Gus Van Sant’s haunting and incredibly shocking Elephant, We Need to Talk about Kevin also deals with America’s youth driven to commit unspeakable acts. But while Elephant dealt with a normal school day disrupted by gun shots and screams of pain, We Need to Talk about Kevin choses to focus instead on the aftermath and the stark effects such an event would have on a mother.
The very first shot of the film is seems to be set amongst the frantic carnage of the La Tomatina, a tomato throwing festival in Spain where Spaniards flock to the streets and hurl tomatoes at each other. The tomatoes envelope of the screen in a sea of red, but just like in Don’t Look Now, you are given the impression that the colour red will have some ominous undertones. But what is very peculiar in this scene is the way Eva (Tilda Swinton) seems rather mellow and serene as she is crowd surfaced amongst the tide of tomatoes and moving bodies. Her figures strikes a duality of religious meaning, on one side she takes an up a similar shape to Jesus on the cross sacrificing herself for someone else’s sin. While on the other hand she looks as if she is offering herself completely to a far greater force than herself, it is still unclear whether its force of good or evil.
Then in the vein of Terrance Malick’s Tree of Life the story then descends into an amalgamation of different points in Eva’s life. In the past she is vibrant, hedonistic creature experiencing the joys of first love and subsequent motherhood. However motherhood doesn’t quite lead to the blissful joy you would expect, because the relationship between Eva and young Kevin becomes a battle ground of wills and temperament. It starts of nonchalant, toddler Kevin refuses to play pass the ball with Eva, but as he grows older his sense of rebellion greatens and Eva tolerance wanes to the point she snaps in a moment of weakness and hurls Kevin against a wall and breaks his arm. Ironically despite the title no one ever talks about Kevin, while Eva is desperate to confide with his father, he quickly dismisses her at every turn because Kevin always plays the sweet card in his presents, then the moment he is out of the room his tone and facial expression quickly shifts to scorn and again he continues to gored and taunt his mother. While in the present she obsessively tries to clean a massive splatter of red on her house, at first it is unclear how the paint got there, but as we see the angered, disapproving glares from people on her way to work, you get the impression that the community like fire and pitch forks to Frankenstein, have sought to punish her for her creations wrong doings.
The jumping in time frame was hugely effective, because you became grimly aware that while in the flashbacks eventually Eva gave birth to a baby girl, in the present Eva is completely alone with no husband or daughter to speak of. You really begin to fear for them when you suspect a now teenage (Ezra Miller) Kevin might have had a hand to play in the death of the daughter’s guinea pig and the loss of her eye. The scene when the parents confront Kevin with their grievances is probably the most striking and stomach turning scenes in the entire film. As Kevin being faced with the blame of his sister lost eye casually and nonchalantly continues with an open moth to chew on a lychee, its juices squirting everywhere and thus taking up a sinister and revolting meaning in regards to the loss of the sister’s eye.
Unquestionable the standing achievement of this film rests in the performances of Ezra and Tilda Swinton. Ezra every similar to Hannibal Lector from the Silence of the Lambs, he is dark, sinister yet fiercely intelligent, which makes him appear for more menacing as he makes you feel that he is constantly plotting and conspiring something evil. On the other hand, while it would be so easy to exhibit a lavish out pouring of emotion and pain; unlike her performance in Julia which is pompous and over the top, instead in We Need to Talk about Kevin Tilda keeps her emotions thinly beneath of the surface of her skin, until you start to see her character like a ticking time bomb not knowing when she is going to explode.
As the film draws towards an end, the first time mother and son talk in prison, leading to the exposure of the big, black twisted elephant in the room, the question of why? But while Eva seeks this opportunity to seek solace and closure, Kevin instead takes up the time to give a speech with subliminal critique of America’s obsession with serial killers, “I means it’s got so bad that half the people on TV, inside the TV they’re watching TV. What are these people watching, people like me?” However while a similar message goes relatively unnoticed in the bombastic, bullet drenched madhouse of Natural Born Killers, with We Need to Talk about Kevin the message is felt far more deeply, to the point it leaves a scare on your very subconscious.