There is no more unsettling thought than the idea that children can be born ‘bad’ and no amount of nurture can bring them ’round again. That for some very unlucky among us, nature just throws up a child that so severely lacks empathy he or she can go on to do terrible, terrible things.
This is the unnerving premise of the film We Need to Talk About Kevin. It is such a chilling idea that makes for brilliant cinema.
When we first wrote about the concept of ‘evil’ children on Mamamia, some of you were outraged at the very thought. That we were giving nature too much credit and not nearly enough due to the myriad outside influences that can, or might, corrupt us all. Friends, family, media, strangers in the street. The world, not the womb.
Many more of you discussed the best-selling book of the same name by Lionel Shriver upon which this film is adapted. In it, a travel-struck woman called Eva (Tilda Swinton) settles before her adventures are done and gives birth to her first child, Kevin (Ezra Miller). Does she resent him as the bung in her plans to scoot across the globe? And, the thought that will plague her every waking moment, does Kevin pick up on the resentment? Does he spite her because of it?
There’s no question Kevin is a deeply disturbed child. He broods. He is disobedient bordering on caricature. He glares. Never at his father (he’s all dreams and rainbows). But always at his mother.
In that sense they share a special bond. Only Eva is privy to the boy Kevin really is. His father cannot see it – is not shown it. But Eva knows. She senses it. Tilda Swinton’s performance is heartbreaking in its nuance. She plays fragile, yet strong, with crushing realism.
How would you react to a child that actively shuns you? Is unconditional love possible in such extreme circumstances?
Kevin develops a love of archery and a creepy affection for tee-shirts that are a few sizes too small in his teenage years … and then he commits an unspeakable crime. A crime toward which his entire life seemed to march. It was inevitable, at least in the context of this story, and it’s not giving too much away to say it involves a massacre at Kevin’s school.
The film is a discussion of two wildly different views. That one mother will blame herself for all the failings of her child, and that society will blame her too. And the opposite, that sometimes bad things happen and there is no reason. No explanation.
Director Lynne Ramsay turns these uncomfortable themes into a piece of art. The movie premiered to critical and audience acclaim at the Cannes International Film Festival … and rightly so. It’s a visually stunning study on the colour red, a suburban horror story, a masterful explorer of sound and haunting close-ups.