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

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood September 12, 2011 at 11:40AM

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

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.

Thompson on Hollywood

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.

This article is related to: Festivals, Genres, Independents, Video, Reviews, Interviews , Toronto, Telluride, Drama, Books, Trailers


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.