We Need to Talk About Kevin

We Need to Talk About Kevin ★★★★★

I thought Gus van Sant's Elephant would stand as the lasting film about a high school shooting, one that attempted to draw some sort of meaning out of something so random and tragic. But what director Lynne Ramsay achieves in her devastating portrait of a mother of one of society's most unconscionable criminals is nothing short of miraculous. Ramsay finds the perfect vehicle for such a tale in the film's mosaic structure, a never-ending source of inspiration for filmmakers, as editing the film in seemingly random, haphazard order allows for new meaning to be created out of the disjointed juxtaposition of scenes. The most punishing and revelatory scenes come after the incident, in derisive glances by the townsfolk towards the mother, and the endless splashing of red paint onto her house, which many scenes throughout the film are spent showing her cleaning off. Unfolding the narrative linearly, the actual shooting would have to be frontloaded for enough time to be spent on the repercussions, but the mosaic structure allows the film to still build towards both the shooting and an emotional zenith, while cutting the past and present together to draw more subjective parallels and conclusions. Tilda Swinton plays the mother, Eva Khatchadourian, to flawless perfection, in what is the greatest female performance from 2011, instilling scenes of her character's mounting frustration with pure humanity and realism, like when her son Kevin's endless crying as an infant is momentarily relieved when she stands smiling beside a jackhammer, a visual stroke of genius depicting the diminishing definition of bliss to a first-time mother. And that is where the film truly resonates, in the moments where it earns its title, as her relationship with Kevin becomes fractured during his childhood, perhaps due to her inexperience, or resentment at having to give up her artistic pursuits, or perhaps just because Kevin is a bad egg, and persistent attempts to discuss the matter with her husband Franklin, a never better John C. Reilly, fall on deaf ears. A lesser film would have relegated his dismissals of her protestations to mere absenteeism, but Ramsay's film is smarter than that, ever aware of a working class family's subconscious need to conform to a traditional dynamic of stay-at-home mom and blue-collar dad, and more importantly the basic fact that dad only sees Kevin at his best, running and jumping into his arms when he comes home, leaving no trace of the hell he put mom through all day long. Or is it just that she is a bad mother, and impatient? The film leaves this question up to the viewer, but Tilda Swinton internalizes both answers to obsession in her performance, until barely a trace of emotion can get through either way to her rapidly deteriorating mind. We Need To Talk About Kevin will ultimately prove the definitive film on this issue. Never manipulative, and never in betrayal of the gravity of emotions it is dealing with, Lynne Ramsay uses the tragedy to tell the story of an often unmentioned victim, or cause, with unflinching honesty and realism.