112 min | Drama
Release date: December 9th, 2011
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Writers: Lynne Ramsay, Rory Kinnear, Lionel Shriver
Cast: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller, Jasper Newell, Rock Duer, Ashley Gerasimovich
Official sites: oscilloscope.net
A suspenseful and gripping psychological thriller, Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin explores the factious relationship between a mother and her son. Tilda Swinton, in a bracing, tour-de-force performance, plays the mother, Eva, as she contends for 15 years with the increasing malevolence of her first-born child, Kevin (Ezra Miller).
Based on the best-selling novel of the same name, We Need to Talk About Kevin explores nature vs. nurture on a whole new level as Eva’s own culpability is measured against Kevin’s innate evilness. Ramsay’s masterful storytelling simultaneously combines a provocative moral ambiguity with a satisfying and compelling narrative, which builds to a chilling, unforgettable climax.
About Tilda playing Eva
To play Eva Khatchadourian, Lynne Ramsay chose Tilda Swinton, who over the last 20 years has created an entire indelible roster of captivating characters. With We Need To Talk About Kevin, Swinton would step into the role of an ordinary-seeming suburban mother, but one pushed into the most forbidden borderlands of maternal experience. While almost all parents struggle with guilt over those moments when they reacted badly or didn’t respond as they might have hoped, the guilt that Eva must face is so vast and so caustic, it becomes a psychological prison and a tool of self punishment. She is left to question how she can simultaneously care for, feel responsible for and yet fear, revile and be shocked over and over by her own flesh and blood; left to contemplate how her two children could have turned out so diametrically different; left to wonder how her every move in a post-partum haze that has never quite ended might have created a child who could do the unimaginable. Swinton was taken in both by Shriver’s novel and by Ramsay’s approach to it through Eva’s not always reliable memory. “It felt to me that this story looked at stuff that hasn’t really been looked at before,” she comments. “It’s always been a taboo to even talk about the possibility of the maternal instinct not kicking in. There’s this myth when you have a child that everything will be pink roses and the milk of human kindness. But it isn’t always that way. That’s what Lionel Shriver looked at in the novel – and I think that’s what Lynne takes even further in the film, going deep into the inner space of a mother experiencing that.” As a mother of teenaged twins herself, Swinton could feel the unsettling currents of the story in a personal way. Though she says the bond with her children was immediate and powerful, she can remember the fear of what she would do it if did not
turn out that way. “It’s the ultimate nightmare scenario for anyone who has children,” she observes. “I think the story has as much to do with the reality of parenting as Rosemary’s Baby has to do with the reality of being pregnant. It’s a kind of horror film about what every parent most fears: not feeling it from the very get-go, not feeling a bond, and worse than that, feeling an anti-bond that grows and grows from screaming baby to truculent child to murderer.”
The mounting intensity of Eva’s horror is evoked in the quietest, tiniest details of Swinton’s performance. “The role of Eva requires an incredibly complex mix of intelligence and empathy – and Tilda is so strong at conveying a character’s impulses and often unconscious desires,” explains producer Jennifer Fox. “She was absolutely riveting in the role.” Adds Luc Roeg: “It was great just to watch the subtleties of her performance. You can’t really even talk about the film without talking about Tilda – she’s such a force.” Swinton says the biggest challenge of the role was allowing her portrait to be so honest as to draw sympathy from an audience that is also aghast at what has happened in this family. “It was a very interesting juggling act,” she says. “Eva is someone who is very self-determined, very self-possessed, very worldly and very used to getting her own way. But it was important not to play those cards too strongly, so that the audience would relate to her. The nightmare for Eva is not that her son is violent and horrible in some foreign way, but that he is violent and horrible in familiar ways.” While diving fearlessly into the murky shadows of Eva’s soul, Swinton was especially exhilarated by the rapport she found with Ramsay. “Lynne is one of the most instinctive filmmakers that I’ve ever worked with,” she states. “She’s got this kind of animal rhythm around expressing things in images, and I found that very compatible.” Ramsay notes that the intensely domestic Eva was a 180-degree switch from many of the more sweeping roles for which Swinton is so well known. Even the character’s anger is focused entirely inwards. “I think it was very interesting for Tilda to play this kind of a role,” says the director. “We were constantly stripping back the exoticism from her face. It was important that she be a woman who really doesn’t care anymore what she looks like, who has stayed in this town really for martyrdom, to be punished.”
The more Eva becomes confused and frustrated, the more her young son seems to feed off her chaos and use it to increase his ability to manipulate the entire family. The portrait of Kevin as a young man had to be equally complex – revealing not just his seething fury but his supreme loneliness and intractable emptiness.