Tackling each other’s tales up on the big screen seems unusually prevalent between this country and the UK right now. And counting Hugo – Martin Scorsese’s cross-pollinated British fantasy – playing out in Paris, no less. While venturing elsewhere into the darker corners of US society with British filmmaker Steve McQueen’s Shame, and Scottish director Lynne Ramsay’s (Ratcatcher, Morvern Callar) Columbine fueled, macabre scrutiny of the American maternal instinct, in We Need To Talk About Kevin.
So does an outsider’s point of view lend greater insight, freed from the weight of cultural baggage? Not exactly. And especially in the case of Brits staked out on American soil to make a movie, there’s a sense of elusive characters without solid motivation and adrift in a socially generic time and place, that extends beyond simply psychological alienation.
And inadvertently making a case for skipping parenthood altogether while possibly even better than birth control, is We Need To Talk About Kevin. Adapted from the Lionel Shriver bestseller (Born Margaret Ann, the writer who is childless herself changed her name as a teen to Lionel, because she felt a male identity suited her better), the story presents a fascinating subtext, however subdued. Which is, how a feminist leaning liberated woman bringing ambivalence towards males into the maternal experience, would go about rearing a son.
Tilda Swinton is an internally seething dramatic powerhouse of imploding emotions in We Need To Talk About Kevin as Eva. She’s a free spirited international travel writer turned compliant and painfully thwarted housewife when she hooks up in an odd couple union with cheerfully geeky Franklin (John C. Reilly). Compounding her anxiety ridden adjustment to a conventional suburban life, is the arrival of baby Kevin (later on high schooler Ezra Miller).
Evolving from mini-misogynist terror tot to freaky terrorist teen, Kevin contemptuously taunts and humiliates Mom whenever possible through the years. But appears to bond in a man’s man sort of way with Dad. Compounding the confusion of the film, is that absolutely nothing seems to trigger Kevin’s increasingly pathological behavior.
And while audience fingers may initially point to Eva, who openly longs in the presence of a resentful Kevin to return to her fulfilling life before marriage and motherhood, Ramsay teases with a bait and switch narrative when a second child, a daughter is born. And it becomes evident that Eva suffers, not from a deficit in the maternal instinct department, but rather an inexplicably wicked offspring.
With a self-subverting title to begin with – nobody actually ever talks about Kevin to his distressed mother, other than being cheerfully dismissive about his dangerously bizarre behavior – the story ironically suffers from a similar flaw. In other words, if any analysis of such a troubling sociopath is to be so persistently stifled, what then have we learned about Columbine. Which in the case of Kevin and beyond, is only the tip of that foreboding metaphorical iceberg.
Oscilloscope Pictures Rated R 2 stars