A light wind blows a patio curtain, it’s serenity quickly shattered by a sea of enthusiastic revelers frolicking in a tomato bloodbath. Tilda Swinton is lifted above the crowd on which she crowd surfs in ecstasy. She’s lowered to the ground and covered in the scene’s mushy remains (it’s now apparent that we are observing Spain’s Tomatina festival). The camera lingers on the gutter’s clogged drains, the streets flowing with the blood of the fruit/vegetable. And thus begins director Lynne Ramsay’s third feature film (following 1999’s Ratcatcher and 2002’s Morvern Callar), a deeply affecting and joyously delirious adaptation of the 2003 novel.
Readers are probably already familiar with the basic premise of We Need to Talk About Kevin: a mother copes with the aftermath of her titular high school son’s killing spree. 2011’s Beautiful Boy tackled similar subject matter, but the films couldn’t be more different. While BB approached the lingering awkwardness between parents of a murderer in a traditionally linear fashion, Ramsay’s film effortlessly glides and intentionally jolts its way through time and location. Viewers are required to piece together the narrative elements on their own and are then prompted to examine the behaviors and events that led to the present. The fractured narrative traces the mother/son relationship from birth to the prison-set present in painstaking detail. The disturbance levels are shocking and exhausting, as are the constantly evolving characters and shifts in power. Ramsay almost dares the viewer to choose a side, to place the blame on the head of Eva, her husband Franklin (John C. Reilly), or Kevin himself (played in the present by Ezra Miller, the lead of 2008’s Afterschool, another disturbing high school-related outing). But this isn’t the type of film that’s populated by the tired archetypes of heroes and villains, its characters are instead just plain old humans with all of their faults and fears, triumphs and heartbreaks. Discomfort has never felt this inspiring.
An account of the events that lead towards the film’s thematic climax will certainly detract from its impact, but be prepared for a healthy amount of frustrations, wincing, and empty eye socket cleaning. Kevin was Cinedelphia’s second favorite film of 2011 and will certainly be remembered by some as one of the best of the decade.
We Need to Talk About Kevin opens today at the Ritz at the Bourse.