We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Synopsis: A beleaguered metropolitan woman (Tilda Swinton) gives birth to a particularly troublesome son (Ezra Miller) with her incongruously upbeat husband (John C. Reilly), and after attempting to continue to live in the city for a short time, the young couple moves to the picturesque suburbs, wherein the mother is forced to contend with something seemingly very wrong with the child as he grows up into a mass murdering sociopath.
Overview: There are several moments sprinkled throughout writer-director Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin that are simultaneously unsettling and immediately familiar to the point where the depicted tragedy becomes a quasi-comedy of errors. Swinton plays the film’s wounded matriarch with both intimacy and menace, as her attempts to placate her young monster-in-the-making ultimately reveal her own inner leanings towards an according flair for sadomasochistic tendencies. The entire film thus plays out like a dialogue on the distinction between nature versus nurture in child rearing on an individual level, though the climax of the film appears to suggest that perhaps we are all directly implicated in the recurrence and proliferation of acts of mass violence on a public scale.
For some viewers, Miller’s turn as the seemingly inhuman Kevin is one that will stick with them along after the film proper has concluded, as his vacant stare and snide snarls appear to emanate from a character without feeling or sympathy of any kind. But in his direct appeal to the audience at about a quarter of the way into the film’s near two-hour runtime, it becomes equally obvious that those who would choose to watch such immoral depravity are just as culpable in any of the violence that they would otherwise demonize in his own character. In the scene in question, the Kevin character is being interviewed by an unspecified broadcast news network, against which he makes a series of lurid accusations that echo our own world wherein your typical mass shooting or private murder case becomes fodder for tabloid journalism and the supposed monsters behind the headlines become perverse countercultural heroes by proxy.
Which is not to say that Kevin is a sympathetic character by any stretch of the imagination or that Ramsay’s film is some kind of celebration of the mental psychopath. Rather, and more precisely put, We Need to Talk About Kevin is thrilling in its accusations against a culture that tacitly celebrates those individuals that we otherwise condemn as criminals, social or pathological, and makes for one of the most fascinating appraisals of the contemporary mass shooter phenomenon in recent memory on film. Instead of taking some misguided stance against the individual act, Ramsay examines the factors surrounding such events, and finds the viewer to be just as lacking in feeling and empathy, even if they would never profess a desire to take someone else’s life in cold blood.
We Need to Talk About Kevin is an utterly indispensable drama about the contemporary social climate, particularly in America, where violence and depravity is courted seemingly with abandon and lack of awareness to its deeper seated, cultural malignancies. Specifically, the film may make the case for its featured anti-hero’s imbalance to be rooted in a certain genetic predisposition, though Ramsay’s inherent outrage goes far beyond the boundaries of her depicted maternal relationship. The most chilling aspect of We Need to Talk About Kevin comes with the realization that we seem to thrive on the very evil that which we simultaneously desire to condemn outright, which uncovers an underlying hypocrisy in regards to how we as a society go about in our judgments on crime and punishment. Perhaps the film’s eponymous plea is not entirely one of an insular logic relating to an interior narrative, but a demand for attention to our own real world narrative, wherein the killers are made into movie stars of a different sort entirely, with little attention being paid to the viewer’s criminal involvement in kind.