Kenneth Turan gives Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin a rave, pointing out how if Ramsay were a male director she would, arguably, be more celebrated. I would add to that if men gave birth to babies and raised them the film would be more “universal,” but since the gaze is decidedly male, giving birth certainly female this is a story that mothers in particular will feel the full force of…but pure artistry alone should have male critics also noticing Ramsay’s work — here is one who did:
Working from Lionel Shriver’s celebrated novel, Ramsay and her equally unflinching star, the mesmerizing Tilda Swinton, present a troubling, challenging examination of what Ramsay, speaking at Cannes, called “one of the last taboo subjects: You’re meant to instantly love your baby from the moment he’s born, but what if you don’t?” And what if that baby grows into someone terrifying?
If this were a just world, Ramsay’s name would be more celebrated than it is. Her extraordinary debut, 1999’s “Ratcatcher,” won her the British Academy of Film and Television Arts prize for best newcomer in British film, but because of five frustrating years spent in a fruitless attempt to film “The Lovely Bones,” “Kevin” is her first feature in nearly a decade.
On one level, “Kevin” tells a straightforward story of the relationship between mother Eva (Swinton) and her frighteningly manipulative son, Kevin, played as a toddler by Rocky Duer, as a boy by Jasper Newell and as a teenager by the unnerving Ezra Miller.
But because Ramsay is an extraordinary evoker of visual mood, someone who seems to literally think and feel in images, “Kevin” functions on an expressionistic as well as a literal level, blending the real and the surreal as if there were no difference between them.
Working with the gifted cinematographer Seamus McGarvey (“The Hours,” “Atonement”), Ramsay is incapable of creating ordinary images. Whether it’s the somehow disturbing visual of billowing white curtains that opens the film, later shots of Halloween revelers that have a spooky Diane Arbus feel or almost anything in between, “Kevin’s” ability to assemble textured visuals is its most potent attraction.