We Need To Talk About Kevin” – Lynne Ramsay

Beyond the fact that the three great­est film mak­ers in the world are David Lynch, David Lynch and David Lynch, the five or six seri­ous film mak­ers work­ing in the medi­um today are Anh Hung Tran, Atom Egoy­an, Julio Medem, Todd Solondz and Lynne Ram­say (but then what about Mar­co Bel­loc­chio, or Scorsese…).

So the luke­warm response that the lat­est film from the lat­ter evoked in Britain was sur­pris­ing. Because We Need To Talk About Kevin is immaculate.

Ram­say made her debut in 1999 with Rat­catch­er, an unusu­al­ly lyri­cal and slight­ly detached look at grow­ing up on a coun­cil estate. She fol­lowed that in 2002 with Morvern Callar, which was even more dogged­ly ellip­ti­cal, and con­cen­trat­ed on evok­ing a mood and con­jur­ing up an atmos­phere rather than rigid­ly pur­su­ing a nar­ra­tive drive.

So few peo­ple famil­iar with her work can have been sur­prised at the way in which she approached adapt­ing Lionel Shriver’s acclaimed nov­el, We Need To Talk About Kevin. The slight­ly big­ger bud­get and the pres­ence of the rel­a­tive­ly well-known Til­da Swin­ton and John C Reil­ly as the put-upon par­ents mean that it’s slight­ly more con­ven­tion­al than her two pre­vi­ous films. But it also pro­vid­ed her with the scaf­fold­ing on which to build an even more impres­sive con­struct that melds visu­al grandeur with son­ic panache.

It’s hard to know what the crit­ics in Lon­don had been expect­ing. Matthew Sweet man­aged to com­plain on the BBC’s Late Review that it added noth­ing to the hor­ror genre. Well no. That’s because it’s not a hor­ror film. While we’re on the sub­ject, it’s pret­ty dis­ap­point­ing as bed­room farce as well.

Oth­er crit­ics com­plained about the heavy-hand­ed sym­bol­ism. But it’s not sym­bol­ism that the film employs. Rather, there are a series of visu­al and son­ic motifs that rip­ple and rever­ber­ate through­out the piece as a whole, and that reflect and con­nect the char­ac­ters to their sur­round­ings, send­ing cur­rents and waves across the surface.

It’s not an enjoy­able film, obvi­ous­ly, nor should it be. It acts instead as a com­pan­ion piece to Gus Van Sant’s bril­liant Ele­phant from 2003, which just­ly won that year’s Palme d’Or at Cannes. That explored the con­ven­tion­al­ly held view that the sort of kids who inex­plic­a­bly open fire on their hap­less class­mates are com­plete­ly nor­mal. Kevin offers up the corol­lary to that. What if some kids are just bad (though the book it should be not­ed is more ambiva­lent of the ques­tion of blame.)?

Aus­tere yet expan­sive, Sea­mus McGarvey’s pris­tine cin­e­matog­ra­phy and Jon­ny Greenwood’s insid­i­ous score com­bine to pro­duce a work of rare cin­e­mat­ic qual­i­ty. And, like The Lives Of Oth­ers, it even­tu­al­ly offers relief from its unremit­ting oppres­sion. As with its very last line and ges­ture, the faintest glim­mer of hope is final­ly allowed to break through.