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  • Writer's pictureDanny Jarabek

We Probably Should've Talked About Kevin Sooner

Focus. Lynne Ramsay’s stylistic approach to filmmaking is driven by her own focus on themes of grief, guilt, and trauma and how it affects everyone involved. Ramsay’s characters in We Need To Talk About Kevin are the platform for her 2011 exploration into these themes where a family drama dials the psychological thriller setting to maximum capacity. The narrative surrounds the raising of a peculiar child, played as a toddler by Rock Duer, a child by Jasper Newell, and a teenager by Ezra Miller, and the evolving hardships of the relationship with his mother (Tilda Swinton).

Utilizing her trademark techniques of nonlinear narrative and vibrant imagery to build the world of the film, Ramsay’s approach can be jarring and puzzling to some, but is equally encapsulating to many. What impresses most about the nonlinear format is the way it integrates into the mind of the characters reflecting their scattered memories through traumatic experiences while, simultaneously, tension builds toward a tipping point and grief compounds in the aftermath. This methodical and deliberate release of information intentionally withholds key contextual elements of particular shots only to circle back and present the same imagery in new contexts to devastating effect.

The familial setting begs questions surrounding the underlying theme of nature vs. nurture in the troubling relationship specifically between Eva (Tilda Swinton) and Kevin (Ezra Miller). While the film does not necessarily produce an answer, the unresolved conflict is felt by everyone while watching Kevin’s childhood and adolescence spliced together in a series of violent and antagonistic acts all driven by a motive to intentionally subvert his mother’s love. From intentionally soiling his diaper to taking his final bow, “all of his actions are a performance.” Is he inherently evil or did his environment lead him to the path of destruction? Maybe a better question to ask is, in either case, how far can your love as a parent extend to a child that is unmistakably filled with so much hate?

Tilda Swinton’s portrayal of a mother stuck at this crossroads works in perfect harmony across timelines exhibiting her hesitancy to blame her son in the face of a town that has quite literally splattered their pain on her front door. One of the most prominent features of Ramsay’s work is the use of color to symbolize the ever-present guilt that can be washed away but never truly fades. Calling to the symbolism of Lady Macbeth’s inability to wash the guilt off her hands, the repeating imagery of Eva attempting to scrape the paint off her house is a haunting and unsettling look into the psyche of a broken shell of a person driven by a magnetic performance.

While not every element of the plot weaves together seamlessly, the arrival at the film’s final act is nothing short of devastating as the final piece of the puzzle is revealed to the audience and our attention returns to Eva, a tortured mother with nothing left to give. The visual elements hinted in the opening act return to bring the narrative full circle, providing context to Eva’s pain. While the film’s weakest element is the odd casting of John C. Reilly as Kevin’s father, it does add to the overall unsettling atmosphere of the film as a whole and returns attention to the overall subversion of the suburban family setting. Although the film may not be as refined in its craft in comparison to You Were Never Really Here, the film is true to the character of Ramsay as a director and propels even more excitement about her upcoming projects.

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