We Need to Talk About Kevin (UK-US, 2011)

Bringing up a monster

This is the best film I’ve seen that’s been released this year. Fabulous source material (I’ve not read the book so was happily unaware of the denouement), brilliant performances by Tilda Swinton and the succession of Kevins, an encapsulating sound design that unsettles and utterly brilliant direction. And I didn’t mention Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography or Jonny Greenwood’s music. The set design too… Ramsey managed to pull all this off with a budget of $7m! See interview.

It’s nearly 10 years since her second film, Morvern Callar, was released and Ramsey’s inability to get her third film made for so long is a sad testament to the state of film-making generally, and in the UK in particular.  In addition we lost her version of The Lovely Bones along the way. Ramsey is a brilliant director because she tells the story through rich visuals and doesn’t simply rely on performance and script. Throughout the film the colour red is a motif (whether it be present as a teddy or a kettle or whatever) haunting the frame and preparing us for the climax. The clowns on the doctor’s wall, as the mother tries to find out what’s wrong with her son, mock her with their sinister expressions of laughter. I could go on…

My habit of reading very little about a film before seeing it paid off with Kevin as I didn’t know what he did (that he did something is obvious). So I could see the film, and this is also how the book is structured, as being about a mother who cannot bond with her son; no fault is apportioned for this. Uncomfortably I suspect most parents can remember moments when their children’s behaviour seemed monstrous to them and in this resides the power of Lionel Shriver’s novel. I won’t spoil the climax but knowledge of this changes the way the mother-son relationship is perceived as it would seem to offering an explanation of events rather than being about parenting a ‘difficult’ child.

I need to see the film again to fully appreciate the richness of the mise en scene and the cinemascope framing. Ramsey brings an arthouse sensibility to the melodramatic mise en scene of Ophuls and Ray, using the home as a place of entrapment and alienation but allowing long takes to play out rather than moving quickly on for the LCD (lowest common denominator) audience (or should that be ADHD?).

One criticism is the casting of usually excellent John C Reilly whose ‘downtrodden’ persona infects his performance as Kevin’s dad who’s oblivious to his wife’s problems. He simply comes across as a dumb male rather than one who’s being manipulated by his son.

Will someone with the ability to greenlight a film project tell Lynne Ramsey she can do whatever she wants for her next film. I think she could be the greatest British director we’ve ever seen.

4 Responses

  1. […] Lacey on films We Need to Talk About Kevin (UK-US, 2011)Autumn catch upIn Our Name (UK, 2010)Rise of Planet of the Apes (US, 2011)The Tree of Life (US, […]

  2. […] and maybe this is a result of seeing the film after the immaculately directed We Need to Talk About Kevin, von Trier’s direction of the first part simply comes across as sloppy and lazy. Whilst […]

  3. “This is the best film I’ve seen that’s been released this year.” For the first time in a long time we appear to be in agreement whole heartedly. Planning to see Wuthering Heights soon although I hear very mixed things.

    P.S. See Tyrannosaur.

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