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We need to talk about Kevin: a grim, unfulfilling experience. For some.

by Marrick on January 18, 2012

I went to see "We need to talk about Kevin" on Monday night at Swansea Uni. The cinema was full of tweedy, intense people looking to engage anyone within earshot in a conversation about "the message" Shriver was trying to convey with her story, the startling cinematography, particularly the face in the bowl of water shot, and the heart-rending end to an intense story.

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I thought it was grim. Tilda Swinton is one of those actors who seem to dwell in the twilight between jobs: her etiolated, starvation-form frame makes her a poster girl for heroin addicts everywhere and her portrayal of Eva (Kevin##Q##s mother) was completely different to the personality that poured out of Lionel Shriver##Q##s novel. Instead of a ripped up, semi-psychotic woman, who has long since passed the edge of reason, we got monotonous staring into space, allied to a defeated acceptance of her role as a social punch bag.

She probably got the role on the basis of being a body double for Shriver, as well as emotionally straight-jacketed as a performer, which to my way of thinking completely misses the point of Eva##Q##s essential vibrancy, drive and dogged determination to do right by her whacko son. Talking of whom: Ezra Miller and Jasper Newell (as 8 year old Kevin) were both excellent, particularly Newell, who for a youngster put in a startling performance as the deranged killer to be.

The rest of the cast are almost irrelevant, so little do they impinge upon the action and eventual calamity. John C Reilly is especially unbelievable as Kevin##Q##s father, both in terms of his porcine joviality in the context of a clearly dysfunctional family; he contributes nothing other than to highlight one of the biggest plot holes in an otherwise excellent novel. I##Q##m referring to the "accident" that resulted in Kevin##Q##s sister having an eye removed. Surely even the most odd families would have had him carted off to a shrink after such an incident and the father##Q##s denial is uncharacteristic of middle-class America, who resort to therapy at the drop of a hat, never mind the drop of a bottle of bleach into their little girl##Q##s eye.

This is a dialogue free, art-house movie that has misery as its sole emotional engine. There are no highs, just lows, right up to an ending that is stunningly predictable, although satisfyingly complete, in the sense that Reilly gets his along with way too cute Ashley Gerasimovich for being a pair of plot damp spots.

There isn##Q##t even any gore; the killing scene comprises Kevin slotting arrows in his bow and letting fly at targets unseen and it isn##Q##t until Eva returns home that she finds his spree included his sister and much-loved father. This is revealed with a brief glimpse of their slightly bloodied corpses on the lawn: too little, way too late for modern audiences brought up on Mission Impossible.

Even then an opportunity for hysterics at the sudden realisation that everything but Kevin is lost to her was avoided in the headlong rush to portray her as emotionless, something that was entirely at odds with her supposedly amazing career as a travelogue writer.

The Eva of the novel is a powerhouse of emotion, and the reduction of her to a wet blanket driven by the needs of her psycho-son just didn##Q##t ring true, but that##Q##s the problem with reading novels before seeing the movie. The different media have different needs and consequently different outcomes. In the book, Eva##Q##s revealing dialogue with her seemingly estranged husband made the ending both unexpected and chilling. In the movie, the ending is predictably inevitable.

The whole experience is depressing and unfulfilling, completely at odds with what I##Q##ve come to expect from 21st century Hollywood.

Actually, I loved it and I hope you sensed the ironic tone of the previous paragraphs, which only served to illustrate what I believe will be the popular view of this work.

I’ll tell you why I loved it. I liked it on an artistic level. The unremitting misery of it was the strength of the movie and Eva##Q##s struggles with her relationships, both with Kevin and his father provided a theme that should evoke a sense of, "Thank God my children are normal." Which it did for me, anyway.

Added to that, Swinton’s portrayal of Eva WAS unexpected – I had in my mind a strong, fiery woman, who went on a legal rampage after the event, protecting the last remaining vestige of her family with everything she could throw at the system and bankrupting herself in the process. What I didn’t expect was the beaten, withdrawn woman portrayed by Swinton, which added somewhat to the whole drama and to be fair to Shriver and to Swinton, is probably what the author had in mind in the first place.

The directorial restraint shown in the gore free killings, demonstrated for anyone to see that a sense of horror can be engendered by inference rather than the bloodily obvious and Lynne Ramsey is to be congratulated for creating a truly terrifying scene at the school, which contrasted wonderfully with the calm psychosis of Ezra Miller’s Kevin.

Regrettably, the ending is weak, but it always was going to be for those of us who had pre-knowledge. Seeing the still bodies of Franklin and Celia lacked the impact of the novel, but it was as good an effort as could be expected.

Not everyone will like “We need to talk about Kevin”, and many will be disturbed by it, but the performances are good, the sparse dialogue well thought out and the direction simply breath-taking. This isn’t a film to enjoy, but it is a work to appreciate. It will make you think and it might make you hurt, but it won’t make you cry or laugh, the usual stock in trade of Hollywood fare. This is because it isn’t and doesn’t try to be Hollywood and it investigates a different emotional set, ones you might not be altogether comfortable with, but nevertheless it tells it as it is: life without sugar or salt.

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