Oedipus Wrecks Tilda Swinton in ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’

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CHICAGO – The mother and son relationship is perhaps one of the most complicated ever invented. In giving birth to an opposing gender, the woman must then deal with a maturation process foreign to her own, with all the potential psychosis attached. Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller play the game in “We Need to Talk About Kevin.”

Adapted from a novel in bold emotional detail by director Lynn Ramsay, “Kevin” pulls no punches in following the mother/son conundrum from birth to adolescence, chronicling a born-to-be-bad social misfit and the desperate means he practices in the push-pull of dear old Mom. The Oedipal Complex – boy wants to have his mother and kill his father – is also thematically on display, with stark ramifications for a combination of that theory with a modern, violent society.

The story is told in flashback through Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton), a woman who is living in a rundown house in a nondescript town. As the narrative unfolds, we learn that Eva has a son named Kevin (Ezra Miller), who is currently incarcerated for a vicious crime. The town actually acts out toward Eva and in essence blames her for the event that caused Kevin’s arrest. As she wallows in her own purgatory, Eva remembers the relationship with her son.

Tilda Swinton (Eva) and John C. Reilly (Franklin) in ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’
Tilda Swinton (Eva) and John C. Reilly (Franklin) in ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’
Photo credit: Oscilloscope Pictures

The memories consist of the American Dream Scenario, with Eva meeting the rambunctious Franklin (John C. Reilly), falling in love and starting a family. There is evident upper middle class success, as they welcome a son in their lives named Kevin. Except Kevin is not a normal good boy. He makes Eva’s life a living hell, acting out virtually in every way against her. The mother’s sorrow and anger builds, and the plea to her husband to “talk about Kevin” falls on deaf ears. The boy child becomes more monstrous as adolescent Kevin, and moves toward a destiny that seemed predetermined by his erratic life.

By all intentions, Eva is a good person. And by the quirks of the genetic code, she has a bad seed son. Now combine that in any normal day-to-day, raise the kids, want-everything-for-them situation and imagine how combustible that can become. Eva is driven to frustration because she is overly-challenged by one spiteful human being, who she happens to be responsible for. We also witness a scene played out in so many American households – the father works to provide and ignores the evidence presented. This causes an uptick of guilt, shame and sorrow in the put-upon Eva.

Tilda Swinton delivers another knock-out performance as the centerpiece of the whole desperate life for Eva. She portrays her in two lives, one while the criminally brutal Kevin tortures her in his upbringing, and the other life post his incarceration, picking up the pieces for an event where she is blameless, but must shoulder the burden through association. The second life is bland and colorless, and mostly cruel. It takes an actor of uncommon expression and subtlety to perform those two types of lives. Swinton captures both of them.

Opposite to her are the three male actors playing Kevin in his various ages, but Ezra Miller is especially malicious embodying the teenager Kevin. There is a direct Oedipal reference as Eva walks in on the blooming Kevin in a naked state. Instead of embarrassment, he turns to her and challenges the moment. The fact that they lock in embrace is quite chilling, yet appropriate to their relationship. It takes two actors of uncompromising quality, and a story that enables that actuality, to be able to pull off a scene like that.

Ezra Miller Rosins Up the Bow in ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’
Ezra Miller Rosins Up the Bow in ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’
Photo credit: Oscilloscope Pictures

Lynn Ramsay, who co-wrote the adaptation of the source novel, was magnificent in her control of the material. There are symbols and risks all throughout the story, and she never turns away from them. There are no judgments cast upon this “typical” American family, only the consequence of a very bad dream-like existence. It’s not so much a cautionary tale as one of happenstance. With the right array of quirky karma, set against the simple raising of a child, it could happen to anyone.

If anything, “We Need to Talk About Kevin” celebrates the mother and son, because despite the situations that arise from the relationship, the film does conclude that it is all we have and also reminds us most poignantly, things constantly change.

“We Need to Talk About Kevin” continues its limited release in Chicago on January 27th. See local listings for show times and theaters. Featuring Ezra Miller, Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Jasper Newell and Ashley Gerasimovich. Adapted screenplay by Lynn Ramsay and Rory Kinnear. Directed by Lynn Ramsay. Rated “R.” Click here for the HollywoodChicago.com interview of Ezra Miller of “We Need to Talk About Kevin.”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2012 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

Manny be down's picture

We need to talk about kevin

This was truly a great movie to me because we need to find the ploblems with kids early in life so we can help them.

ziggy one of the best's picture


What a movie its’ leave me with a strong message about child abuse his mother was ruse to him when he was young but he still love because when she broke his arms he did not blame her so I think he still love her

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