I can’t tell if this is a cautionary tale against becoming a parent (especially if you aren’t certain), or making a strong case for unconditional love. In either case, I wasn’t quite ready for what a drawn-out, consistent, two hour gut punch this would be. I’m not familiar with the novel, so I can’t speak to its strength as an adaptation, but on its own terms it is quite something to behold. Excellently made, tremendously acted and emotionally devastating, this is not a film to go into lightly.
I have now seen two Lynne Ramsay films (one of which, You Were Never Really Here, was my fourth favorite film of 2018), both of which floored me on multiple levels. She has artistic flare, creates memorable shots, draws amazing performances out of her cast and knows how to build a looming sense of dread. She is clearly a confident filmmaker and her choices make for strong, impactful work that challenges but rewards in equal measure.
Tilda Swinton absolutely amazed me as Eva, a woman who goes against her instincts and agrees to have a child with her husband Franklin (played by John C. Reilly). It is a decision she will come to regret in the worst ways, for the rest of her life. She struggles to bond with her son upon his birth, and takes his incessant crying harshly. As he grows up and becomes more mischievous, she takes it personally, as he really seems to know what he is doing and always aims his vitriol, however silent, at his mother. Eva tries to be a good mother but doesn’t know how, and it’s hard to say how much of his behavior is innate and how much may be influenced by the distance between them. Every smattering of fear, pain, love, heartache, longing and regret that goes through Eva is all over Swinton’s face. It is remarkable work.
The ever-troubling Kevin is played as a young child by Jasper Newell and as a teenager by Ezra Miller, and they are both great. They master the kind of menacing looks that suggest a future horror is slowing approaching, inching forward like a glacier headed for an ocean of sorrow, ready to swallow up the entire family. Kevin and Eva only share one, true bonding moment on screen, as she reads him a bedtime story, and it turns out to be a horrifying harbinger that I never would have imagined.
Everything about this film is of a very high quality. It is wonderfully edited, jumping around through Kevin’s life through Eva’s perspective, really showcasing how much her son’s birth has affected every aspect of her life. The direction and acting are superb and the script is strong. The film’s intensely powerful climax is hinted at in the open, but you still won’t get the full extent of what happened until you see it, and by then you’re already reeling. Speaking volumes about the nature vs nurture debate and inviting you to think deeply on the subject, it’s the kind of emotionally-wrecking film that will be difficult to revisit, but demands to be appreciated.