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Tilda Swinton and Lynne Ramsay Need to Talk About Kevin: Demon Seed or Bad Mothering?

Tilda Swinton and Lynne Ramsay Need to Talk About Kevin: Demon Seed or Bad Mothering?

One of my favorite Cannes’ competition films, Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s 2003 Brit bestseller We Need to Talk About Kevin, debuted to mixed reaction there, failing to land any awards. The film played well at Telluride alongside a Tilda Swinton Tribute and continued to cut a critical swathe through Toronto and beyond.

The creepy film paints a nasty portrait of a dysfunctional mother and son who do not get along. It tends to have a polarizing effect, especially on parents, some of whom feel prickles of discomfort and recognition at its sympathetic portrait of a mother who never bonds with her malevolent son, while others reject the premise outright. I flip cammed Ramsay and Swinton together (below with trailer) at Telluride.

I have not read the novel, but some who admired the book can’t get past how Ramsay jettisoned Shriver’s epistolary narration for a more fractured structure without any voiceover, although it is very much told from the POV of the lonely depressed mother of a SPOILER ALERT disaffected son imprisoned for killing a bunch of kids in a school gym. The movie shows us fragments of how she got where she is, and the nature of her troubled relationship with her husband (John C. Reilly) and older child. While Ramsay makes Kevin a tad too demon-seed and goes overboard with the red-blood-red art direction, she plays out this tense drama with skill and style.

Here’s a round-up of early reviews.

The film was deemed too tricky to handle by the bigger specialty distributors, who worried about the cost of an Oscar campaign for Swinton, who gives the performance of her career; she has won the Oscar before (supporting actress for Michael Clayton), plus critical raves for her roles in Julia and I Am Love. With Oscilloscope and Oscar maven Cynthia Swartz (Wendy and Lucy, The Messenger) behind her, she’s a long shot for a best actress nomination.

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