The movie is essentially the tale of a troubled mother and her relationship with her son. The progression of events and behaviours that lead to a tragic, but sadly familiar ending.
A common enough tale of a loving and adventurous couple moving into the more sedate world of parenting and suburbia. An idyllic sort of family life complete with the modern trappings of an upper middle class, American life.
The kind of scenario that belies the very real and oft disturbing realities of that modern life. Depression, confusion, conflicting emotions and the terribly difficult task of raising a child in our world.
Made all the more difficult by a clearly disturbed child and a mother incapable of coping with the changes to her life and the difficulties this disturbed child has wrought upon their lives.
The film jumps right to it. Not giving any real context. The viewer is splashed with strange scenes and stranger characters. You are not given an easy entry. Nor should you be. This isn’t really an easy subject.
In contrast to the serious nature of the story, the music is lilting and even happy (Beach Boys, Buddy Holly, Wham!). The kind of songs that bring reminiscence. A perfect counterpoint to the dark thoughts played out on film (even down to a police car 54 on scene in the grim final act). An aural reminder of how things seem versus the real and often very different undercurrents of our lives.
As the plot progresses, we see the telltale signs of impending disaster. This is no great shakes. Many a film has managed to weave a tale both uncommon and yet still very, very familiar. A tale that we instinctively know will end terribly.
The difference in this film is in how the tale is told. Viewed from the mother’s perspective, we can sense her dread and her desperate need to rectify her mistakes. All the while piling on new and more impactful emotional and physical tolls that only make things worse.
We feel and understand her impotence most poignantly. Yet can also scream at the screen when she continues on her destructive path. The viewer knows the mother is complicit, yet we can commiserate with her failures and her inner sorrows.
For no mother could, or would, want to believe what she knew deep down.
Cutting between flashback and current time, the tension builds throughout.
The movie is made by the performance of Tilda Swinton. Swinton brought the character to life fully and completely. Her pain and suffering. Her coldness and her failure to connect despite a need to find that parental love. And often, her resignation to what she has created.
There is no more telling scene than a mother-son outing intended to bridge the gap with something pedestrian and fun.
Walking from the car, the mother remarks about the boy’s lack of weather appropriate attire, “You just can’t get uncomfortable enough.” To which he responds, “Uncomfortable…with my own mother?” in that snide tone that only a teenager can muster.
What follows is the crux of the film.
Standing at the counter of the miniature golf course, the mother sees a group of obese people and rails, “Whenever I see fat people, they’re always eating. Don’t give me any of this…’slow metabolism, it’s my glands’ crap.” The boy follows up…
Kevin “You know, you can be kind of harsh sometimes.”
Mother “You’re one to talk.”
Kevin “Yeah, I am…wonder where I got it.”
There is a lot to think about while the movie is playing out. We start with the wreckage of the mother’s life now and are taken on a dramatic and sobering view of how something like this might happen.
Not in any single incident, but over the course of sixteen years. In the end, we are confronted with no true monster, but something far more dangerous and complex.
- We Need to Talk about “We Need to Talk About Kevin” (this-today.com)
- We Need To Talk About Kevin (kinselluloid.wordpress.com)
- Take Three: John C. Reilly (thefilmexperience.net)
- Video: Tilda Swinton on “Taboo” Parenting Talk – It’s All a “Crapshoot” (popsugar.com)
- Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly Bring Something Big to Talk About to Cannes (popsugar.com)
- We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011) (abifilms.com)