Lynne Ramsay is one of the prime examples of how directorial talent doesn’t ensure an easy cinematic career. She started her career explosively, captivating Cannes in the mid-90s with her student shorts, before releasing her critically lauded and Criterion-captured freshman feature Ratcatcher in 1999, and the daring Morvern Callar in 2002. But then Ramsay disappeared from the cinematic landscape, plagued with behind-the-scenes creative and financial woes. She spent four years adapting The Lovely Bones, before it was handed over to Peter Jackson for a less than stellar adaptation. She was courted for Jane Eyre, but refused the offer when she wasn’t allowed to adapt the material herself.
Her luck began to turn when Lynne Ramsay settled on Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin. The road was hard, as the filmmaker battled financial woes and rigid timeframes, but Ramsay persevered to create one of the most captivating films of 2011. Our review of the DVD/Blu-ray combo follows after the jump.
We Need to Talk About Kevin is an artfully edited film jumping back and forth through time to outline the life of Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton), a woman who has somehow evolved from a free-spirited world traveler to a harried shell of a woman torturing herself in isolation. Through the haze of her memories, Ramsay reveals how Eva’s life spiraled out of control—how she fell in love with Franklin (John C. Reilly), and after a night of dancing in the rain, conceived a troubled child, Kevin (Rock Duer, Jasper Newell, Ezra Miller).
What should be the start of a happy family slowly evolves into a nightmare. From the beginning, Eva seems disconnected from her child, and Kevin seems to be more manipulative than his age should allow. Their antagonistic relationship evolves over the years, from childish impetuousness to calculated and disturbing manipulation. Eva has no support; the doctors see nothing wrong, and more importantly, Franklin chooses to live in willful ignorance. He believes the problems do not exist, and as their marriage struggles, it prompts Kevin to turn to inevitable extremes.
The story plays out like a carefully constructed puzzle. Moments from Eva’s present life continually provoke memories of the past as themes and colors repeat themselves, like the red of tomatoes, the red of splattered paint, and the red of blood. Ramsay is careful to make visual connections, but never clear, cut-out facts. The line between nature and nurture is blurred, and the film refuses to let either Eva or Kevin be without blame.
Eva and Kevin are two faces of the same problem, which is obvious the moment you open the quite apt packaging for the DVD/Blu-ray. The pull-out begins with a brief essay from psychoanalyst Mark Stafford before opening to a split image – the left half of Eva’s face matched with the right half of adult Kevin’s (Miller). Opening the spread completely reveals chilling artwork by Celia (Ashley Gerasimovich), Kevin’s little, bubbly sister and the two discs. The transfers of the film are beautiful, especially in the moments where Ramsay lavishes in shots of red, or when the camera zeroes in on Kevin’s minute manipulations.
Though the features are not plentiful, they do give some interesting insights into the film and its source material. A behind-the-scenes featurette uses talking head interviews to discuss the thoughts behind each cast and crewmember’s involvement, as well as theories and insights into the characters. The second lengthy feature is a Q&A with Swinton at Telluride last year, where she talks about her work and experiences with varied directors. Sadly, there is no commentary, but there is a 4-minute extended clip of the Tomatino tomato festival footage, plus a brief chat with Lionel Shriver, where the author discusses how she came to write the story of Kevin and Eva.
We Need to Talk About Kevin is a beautiful film with a suitable disc release. Chances are, a future release (maybe Criterion?) will include more goodies, but for now it’s a solid start for a must-see movie.