We Need to Talk About Kevin

I had heard great things about Tilda Swinton’s performance. She is a mother racked with guilt and duty. She lives her life in a hollow-eyed state of post traumatic stress. What I wanted most from this movie was a character arc. I was disappointed. In an interview with Swinton that played before the film, she said she most enjoyed playing characters whose basic foundation was shaken–who were forced to change. For me that just didn’t happen in Kevin.

Part of the fault lies in the structure of the movie. It’s one of those modern intercut movies, where the past is overlaid on the present. I don’t think we can even refer to the scenes in the past as flashbacks anymore. In this particular story, I felt the technique defused the tension, rather than heightened it. If we want to witness Tilda Swinton’s character dragged into her own personal hell, doesn’t she have to start off in a good place? I was surprised, somewhere two-thirds of the way in the film to learn that she was a successful travel author. In every other scene she seems trapped by circumstances.

Reading around the web, I see that Roger Ebert disagrees with me completely about this. He says,

“The mistake would be to take the film apart and try to reconnect the pieces in chronological order. The wife and mother, Eva (Tilda Swinton), has been so overwhelmed by despair that her life exists in her mind all at the same time. There is no pattern. Nothing makes sense.

I guess how you feel about the film’s structure depends on what you think the film is trying to portray. Is it enough to be adrift in the mind of the sufferer? Is the audience supposed to feel what it is to know that there is no way out. The film certainly succeeds providing a sense of eternal damnation–the sameness of the eternal present.

Every scene in the movie is colored in red. One is always aware of it. The effect is not like Ozu, however; it’s more like a B-horror flick. Like Lady Macbeth, Swinton’s character cannot wash the blood off her hands. And time after time we see her try, whether it’s red paint, or tomato juice, or strawberry jam. I can’t decide of this is overdone or the best thing about the movie.

Bottom Line

Well-played. Intriguing. And yet I can’t think of a single person I’d encourage to see it.

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