We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

Awe inspiring cinematography demonstrates that optics are the very essence of film making. Camera work and shot selection replaces dialogue in this gripping family-based thriller. 

A 2011 Cannes Film Festival, nominated for the Palme d’Or, We Need to Talk About Kevin is a family-based thriller from the point-of-view of world traveler Eva (Tilda Swinton), who forgoes her passions to begin a family with her husband Franklin (John C. Reilly). We find that Motherhood doesn’t come easy for Eva, their son Kevin grows up detached and difficult. The film develops through this struggle into Kevin’s late-teenage years.

The story unfolds through incredible shot selection. With just a few lines of dialogue in the opening twenty-minutes, a mix of flashbacks and present day shots convey a detailed narrative of Eva pre, during, and post-Motherhood. The happy, fun loving traveler is plunged into an unfamiliar world of familial hardship with a difficult and withdrawn child. As the plot develops the audience learns more about Kevin, their oldest child, but it is not until the climax of the film act that we are aware of his true troubles.

Where the film succeeds is in its ability to affect emotion in the audience, a true rollercoaster ride. Eva’s seemingly positive life-outlook is crushed by her familial struggles, from birth Kevin is difficult, intertwining with the audiences own family experiences. Franklin, Eva’s husband, sees less problem with Kevin’s development, demonstrating the isolation Eva feels in these tough early stages of Motherhood. The character structure helps to progress the film’s emotional pull and conflict within Eva’s familial, and mental life. The film’s chronology helps to convey the directors vision, unlocking parts of the story as we progress on this emotional journey.

The film successfully poses a question that Eva herself is grappling with:

  • Is/was she a bad Mother or was Kevin born psychopathic?

A question that sticks with the audience members even after the credits, the true crux of the film which determines the level of sympathy one feels for both Eva and Kevin. On my viewing, I felt sorry for Eva and lent towards Kevin being a difficult and mentally unstable child, meaning I felt an overwhelming sense of sympathy and emotion for Eva as the film moved into its final act.

While the plot unravels later events as we learn more about Eva’s difficulties as Kevin grows into his teenage years, we never feel appeased. Even after the films thrilling climax, the question it poses still hits the audience even upon reflection.

Lynne Ramsay’s direction is sublime. Dialogue here is second to shot selection and cinematography when it comes to story development, making the film a truly original, emotional experience. The short, jumpy structure of the scenes mean they never linger – we receive a true picture of Eva’s life from her own point-of-view. This forms an effective mechanism of storytelling – especially as the primary plot-points involve Kevin, depicted as a secondary figure in the narrative.

Tilda Swinton is sublime as the protagonist, rightly receiving eighteen award nominations for her performance. Swinton oozes talent, and this is possibly her best role yet. Emotion is a difficult trait to convey to an audience, but Swinton triumphs drawing the audience into this primarily one-character film.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is a true festival gem. A film that is well paced, telling an intricate and unsettling story about a Mothers struggle to bond with her son, and the subsequent repercussions of this. The mark of a truly outstanding film is how it makes you feel after the credits, even now – four days on – the film has had a profound affect on me and the question it poses has stuck with me throughout.






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