We Need to Talk About Kevin

 

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Screenplay by Rory Kinnear

Based on the novel by Lionel Shriver

Cinematography by Seamus McGarvey

Production Design by Judy Becker

Edited by Joe Bini

Music by Jonny Greenwood

Produced by Luc Roeg, Jennifer Fox and Robert Salerno

Directed by Lynne Ramsay

2011

 

Cast:

Tilda Swinton

Ezra Miller

John C. Reilly

Jasper Newell

Rock Duer

Ashley Gerasimovich

Alex Manette

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Independent & LipSync Productions

Video: Oscilloscope Laboratories

 

Video:

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC

Disc Size: BD-50

Feature Size: 41.41.GB

Bit Rate: High (36-38 Mbps)

Runtime: 112 minutes

Chapters: 19

Region: All

 

Audio

English DTS-HD MA 5.1

English LPCM 2.0

 

Subtitles: English

 

Extras:

  1. Behind the Scenes of Kevin – in HD (27:00)

  2. Extra Footage from the “La Tomatina Festival” in Spain – in HD sans audio (4:10)

  3. Telluride Film Festival honors Tilda Swinton– in HD (17:45)

  4. Interview with author Lionel Shriver - in HD (3:50)

  5. Original Theatrical Trailer - in HD

  6. Essay by psychoanalyst Mark Stafford

• DVD copy

 

Presentation:

Custom Paper Gatefold Blu-ray case: 

BRD x 1 + DVD x 1

Release Date: May 29, 2012


 

SYNOPSIS [Oscilloscope]

A suspenseful and gripping psychological thriller, Lynne Ramsay’s WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN explores the fractious relationship between a mother and her evil 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 the Director:

Lynne Ramsay (born 5 December 1969) is a Scottish film director, writer, producer, and cinematographer best known for the feature films Ratcatcher, Morvern Callar and We Need to Talk about Kevin. Her films are marked by a fascination with children and young people and the recurring, unresolvable themes of grief, guilt and, above all, death and its aftermath. - Wikipedia.

 

About the Author:

Lionel Shriver was born Margaret Ann Shriver on May 18, 1957 in Gastonia, North Carolina, to a deeply religious family (her father is a Presbyterian minister). At age 15, she changed her name from Margaret Ann to Lionel because she did not like the name she had been given, and as a tomboy felt that a conventionally male name fitted her better. She was educated at Barnard College, Columbia University (BA, MFA). She has lived in Nairobi, Bangkok and Belfast, and currently lives in London.   Shriver won the 2005 Orange Prize for her eighth published novel, We Need to Talk About Kevin, a thriller and close study of maternal ambivalence, and the role it might have played in the title character's decision to murder nine people at his high school. The book created a lot of controversy, and achieved success through word of mouth.


       

 

Critical Reaction:

New York Times:

“We Need to Talk About Kevin,” though it evokes real-life atrocities like the 1999 Columbine school shootings, is less a psychological or sociological case study than a horror movie, a variant on the bad-seed narrative that feeds on a primal (and seldom acknowledged) fear of children. What if they turn out wrong? What if we can’t love them? What if they refuse to love us? These worries are rarely dealt with in the child-rearing manuals, but they hover over modern nurseries like the ghosts of ancient fairy-tale curses.

 

The film shuttles back and forth between Eva’s life in the aftermath of Kevin’s crime — when she is alone and in disgrace, shunned and abused by the people she had never wanted to live among in the first place — and the events that led up to it. Horror movies tend to be relentlessly linear, moving in a crescendo of suspense that grows out of our panicked curiosity about what will happen next. Ms. Ramsay, with ruthless ingenuity, creates a deeper dread and a more acute feeling of anticipation by allowing us to think we know what is coming and then shocking us with the extent of our ignorance. – A. O. Scott


       


Chicago Sun-Times:

Eva often looks like she's in a state of shock. Her body can't absorb more punishment. She is the wrong person in the wrong life with the wrong child. Is her husband as zoned out as he seems or is that only her perception? As a portrait of a deteriorating state of mind, "We Need to Talk About Kevin" is a masterful film. – Roger Ebert


San Francisco Chronicle:

Tilda Swinton is in emotional hell from her first seconds in "We Need to Talk About Kevin," and over the course of almost two hours, she finds no relief. The reasons for her torment may change or deepen, but they inevitably find their source in an awful foreboding, a sense of failure and ceaseless guilt. It is a very good performance in a very bad movie.  Far from a penetrating portrait of evil, "Kevin" is no better than a monster movie, but one made by people who lack the courage of their convictions. It's a mix of the Grand Guignol and the sophomoric, covered over by a thin veneer of absolute, stone-faced grimness. But serious-looking characters don't necessarily make for a serious movie. . .


. . . Every good or interesting element in "We Need to Talk About Kevin" is smothered in sequences that are either obvious or so slow and stretched as to defy belief. . . It's all very lugubrious and frustrating too, in that the film ultimately makes little psychological sense: Despite the title, there is never the promised discussion about Kevin that any sensible wife would have forced upon her husband. Without seeing even a minor effort by Eva toward her own preservation, you may find it difficult to respect her, or to find much fascination in her paralysis. – Mick LaSalle


       

 

The Movie : 6

LensView:

We Need to Talk About Kevin - but, of course, we never do, that’s very much of the point here, isn’t it?  This is clear right from the clever title card in which the “We Need to Talk About” part is hardly visible and disappears before we can get our mind wrapped around it, to the exhausting, bewildering lack of communication in general between the parents, and the impossibly strained and often sadistically gamey relationship between Kevin and his mother from infancy.

 

Lynne Ramsay has constructed a multi-layered, multi-focused movie about Guilt, Alienation and Evil. The difficulty is that first two ideas are in narrative conflict with the third.  Tilda Swinton allows us to see deeply into the psyche of a mother who resents the role, is rejected by her child and, in turn, rejects him. But out of duty and guilt, she never gives up trying to reach Kevin. Ramsay’s most telling and in some ways the most excruciating image for how things are for Eva occurs early on when she tries to drown out infant Kevin’s crying by standing next to a jackhammer.  But Kevin’s screams can still be heard through the awful din.  Since this is a physical impossibility we are led to understand that the contest between jackhammer and Kevin is subjective on the part of the mother, which would have been the start of a fascinating study of maternal rejection.  But, alas, this is not where Ramsay is going.


       

 

Honoring, in its way, the thrust of the best selling novel on which it is based, the movie quickly devolves into a thriller, borrowing leitmotifs from Halloween, The Bad Seed with a bow to The Elephant Man.  It is as if the subject of maternal rejection of her own child was too taboo (though we know this is what attracted Swinton to the role), so Kevin had to be presented as Evil.  It may make for a good thriller of the slasher variety, but in so doing it steps on its own foot, the one Ms Swinton took great pains to deliver.

 

At best Ramsay and Swinton have made two movies: the one about Reality, however uncomfortable, and the one about Comic Book Evil.  As much as I think I know about psychology, I am at a loss to understand the probable origins of a psychopath.  But as I watched this movie, I remained unconvinced, not by its thesis (with which I tend to agree in part) - that psychopaths are born seriously damaged and then nurtured by rejecting, obsessive, controlling parents – but by the detail: namely, that everything that could be dysfunctional, is.  Everything.  This is a family that doesn’t have a chance.  There is no nurturance to be found between them or in the usual social supports: school, doctors, neighbors.  Not even the birth of a normal sister a few years later is enough to make clear that Kevin is not just a playful boy.  Nobody seems to see it, and the mother is unable to wake anybody up to the obvious - very likely out of her own guilt.  Her husband, played by a putty-brained John C. Reilly, is no help, for about whom it could be fairly said: “He walked through life with opaque rose-colored glasses, the better not to see with.”


       

 

Since the film is told from a point in time not long after Kevin does the nasty deed, we see Eva trying to make a go of it without moving to another town.  This may seem to take great courage but really it’s just her way of atoning for her child and her own guilt.  This is one of the stronger themes of the film, but the reaction of the town – and the courts – are too draconian in the first instance and too lenient in the second to be believed. . . which, as I say, is too bad considering how much effort went into making Eva compelling, even if not sympathetic.

 

I can’t say the same for Kevin, who, until a last moment of self-doubt, is a comic book figure combining the most disagreeable qualities of psychopath and asshole.  The most interesting thing about him, psychologically, is how much he makes himself up to look like his mother.  The book’s author, Lionel Shriver, tells us in her bonus segment that she was motivated to write her book by news stories about unfathomable terror in high schools.  In her book, as in the movie, murderous behavior is always expressed as monstrous, as Evil – which tells us nothing of any value about how it comes to be. There is no take away if there is nothing that could have been done to head it off in another direction.  And so, we need someone to blame – in this case, the mother and the child, who are like a perfect storm, needing only an uncaring and galactically stupid social environment to complete the picture.


       

 

Image: 8/9

There is a Blu-ray edition of this movie that came out in February of this year published by Artificial Eye in Region B.  I don’t have it for review but my own artificial eye, comparing the Oscilloscope to screenshots on blu-ray.com of the UK disc tells me that the U.S. edition is redder than the slightly yellowish tone of the UK, and has stronger (possibly boosted) contrast.  On the other hand the caps on the AV forum show very little difference.  I have no way of knowing which edition is closer to the theatrical experience or if they are actually or very nearly identical.  In either case, typical of Oscilloscope, their transfer comes without difficulties.  Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood wrote the score, which has some creepy qualities.

 

Audio & Music: 8/7

Like the Artificial Eye, Oscilloscope offers two soundtracks: here they are in DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround and LPCM 2.0 stereo, which leads me think that the stereo is the original, especially since it is clearly the more dynamic and more textured.  Most will be happy with either, though I much preferred the stereo.  Everything from ambient effect, to dialogue to the soundtrack was more vivid and more to say.


       

 

Extras: 4

The disc offers four segments: “Behind the Scenes of Kevin” is for th emost part a series of comments by people involved with the film about Kevin and Eva.  I expected more.  “Extra Footage from the La Tomatina Festival” - which is in Spain, by the way, not Italy, as some other commentators have written - is raw footage sans audio.  Worth a looksee if you’re into tomatoes. In the “Telluride Film Festival honors Tilda Swinton” the actress in interviewed on-stage about her performance and the movie. In the “Interview with author Lionel Shriver” we learn what inspired the author to write her book and that she had next to nothing to do with the movie.


On the back cover in font so small and crowded you may need a magnifying glass we find an essay by Mark Stafford - a “practicing analyst and member of Apres-Coup psychoanalytic association, and a faculty member of The New School University, The School of Visual Arts and The Westchester Institute for Psychoanalysis.”  (He could have spared us his critique of Swinton’s performance and Ramsay’s vitae and his essay would have been that much more readable.)  But do make the effort as it is an interesting read even if you find yourself in disagreement.  Stafford tends to equate Evil with Hatred (which I wouldn’t), but misses the connection between Hatred and Fear (which I would.)  He does, however, make the important point that unacceptable feelings repressed are a breeding ground for interpersonal decay.  Like most critics (myself included) Stafford engages in a little projection here, believing that the movie “makes us acknowledge the place of hatred in human life. . . and that this recognition of evil does not eradicate the existence of love.”  I think it’s fair to say that we recognized two different Evas.


       

 

Recommendation: 7

As you can tell, I am of two minds about We Need to Talk About Kevin.  I feel the portrayal of the mother - as written, directed and performed - is insightful and uncommon in the genre.  Whereas, the portrayal of Kevin is just routine sinister pulp.  One could reduce the importance of the role of the mother and cast the film as an origins movie about Batman’s most fascinating nemesis, The Joker.  Oscilloscope does its usual fine job of executing the transfer and presenting it in an artful box, which, happily, has subtler cover art than as pictured at Amazon.com.

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Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

May 20, 2012



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