Actually, we need to talk about Lynne Ramsay.
When a twisted movie comes out of the mind of Quentin Tarantino, we look at him and think – yeah, that makes sense. But Lynne Ramsay? You wouldn’t see it coming. But she does make these amazingly dark, fucked up films. And more often than not, she sticks kids into these movies, which makes them feel even bleaker, even blacker. She likes to make a film that is completely hers, and if she’s not happy, she walks (as she did with The Lovely Bones, and Jane Got A Gun) . She’s fantastically outspoken and she’s not afraid to leave a project if she doesn’t feel comfortable signing her name to it.
We Need To Talk About Kevin is adapted from the shocking novel by Lionel Shriver. Tilda Swinton plays Kevin’s mom, Eva. Eva always struggled to bond with Kevin, who cried incessantly around her but was rather sweet with others. Can a baby deliberately antagonize his own mother? As a child, Kevin finds ways to blackmail his mother into getting his way. When Eva and husband Franklin (John C. Reilly) have a second child, accidents escalate and Eva becomes fearful of Kevin while his father can always excuse his behaviour. This fundamental disagreement puts a strain on their marriage. As a teenager, Kevin (Ezra Miller) commits a massacre at his high school, murdering many students. Eva transforms her life to support him in prison.
This story is the most fantastic, uncomfortable episode of nature vs nurture that we’ve ever seen. Was Kevin born “bad”? How early can we detect evidence of psychopathy? How early can a baby pick up on his mother’s ambivalence?
As his mother, Tilda Swinton steals the show. Of course, the events are her own recollections, offered in retrospect, so she’s the mother of all unreliable narrators. But is she wrong? Despite its title, this isn’t really about Kevin, it’s about his mother. She’s never been perfect, sometimes openly hostile, and we experience the film through her broken mind. Swinton is volcanic – so much bubbling underneath, perhaps ready to blow. It is criminal that she didn’t get an Oscar nomination. That she didn’t get the win.
But the most interesting and surprising thing about the film is that Ramsay takes our darkest society impulse – a child slaughtering other children, and ultimately marries it with themes of redemption. Just whose redemption is perhaps unclear as nothing is overtly stated. Kevin is failed by the system and possibly by his parents. Eva knew what was coming and failed to do anything about it. The film is so troubling it veers into straight-up horror at times, and Ramsay is always there, confrontational, unblinking. Her close-ups dare you to look away.