Undoubtedly one of the most talked about films of the year, Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin looks set to make an impact on the awards season. Ramsay’s adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s controversial novel from 2003 takes a text and makes it irrefutably cinematic. Utilising extreme close ups, bold visual motifs and an intense sound design Ramsay’s film eloquently portrays the story of a failed relationship between mother and son, which subsequently manifests itself in extreme violence.
The film is told in two narrative strands, essentially a before and an after sequence. Both narratives are told from the perspective of Eva (embodied by Tilda Swinton). Both narrative strands are anchored around the high school massacre carried out by Eva’s son, Kevin (portrayed with great charisma and menace by Ezra Miller). Around this pivotal moment we essentially learn about the development of their relationship beginning with Kevin’s conception. We learn that Eva never wanted, and therefore never loved the child.
Ramsay uses the American locale of the story to further her vision of the inside of Eva’s head, rather than to say anything site-specific. She uses the locations of New York and Connecticut to represent Eva’s complete inability to tolerate her life since Kevin’s conception. In New York she juxtaposes the sound of baby Kevin crying with the sound of pneumatic drills, in Connecticut she uses the sound of country and western music to create a subtle and maddening atmosphere.
Ramsay’s decision to internalise every environmental feature into Eva’s psyche makes We Need to Talk About Kevin a slow burning and effective film. Ultimately it is all the more disturbing for the fact that our protagonist seems so off-kilter. This makes us ask ourselves who is the more insane, Kevin for his wild massacre, or Eva for her inability to find love for her first born child.
We Need to Talk About Kevin is an enormously creative and intensely psychological film that succeeds at placing you in Eva’s head. The only question that remains is whether you want to be there or not.