A film is only as good as it’s actors, the old saying goes. In this case, the results truly speak for themselves. The entire cast, Tilda Swinton in particular, are simply superb. Superb I tell you. Swinton gives what is easily the best performance of her entire career. She is just phenomenal, no question about it. The range you see emanating from her is uncanny, it really is. As for the other players, John C. Reilly is perfect as the father, he truly nails the naive blindness part of parenthood. This is the first time I’ve ever seen Ezra Miller act, and I have to admit he’s pretty damn good. Kevin feels so incredibly real and scary under Ezra’s performance, it’s chilling. Miller’s acting really has made me so much more interested to see what his version of the Flash will be in the upcoming DC cinematic universe. He already has shown to have the enthusiasm for it in interviews and if even half of what he brought to the table here is present in his Flash, he’s going to be blowing minds with his version of the scarlet speedster. But I digress.
Here is a film that is exquisitely subtle and properly challenges you, from the very beginning, to pay attention and try to form a complete picture of just what is happening and how does it all inevitably connect to the bigger picture. It honestly took considerable amount of time before I finally felt that I had gotten a proper hold of the movie, and even then it really kept me guessing what was happening, keeping me constantly at the edge of my seat, unsure and uncomfortable with where it was going. The film really sucks you in and isn’t at all afraid to make you actively just guess what’s going on. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. The fragmented non-linear narration is crucial for the story to work as powerfully as it does. Without it you could not so perfectly capture the long, extended, toll taking anguish and slow mental break down that Tilda Swinton’s character Eva goes through as Kevin’s mother. Without all the meticulously planned and intricately placed pieces converging only at the climax, the ending wouldn’t come together in such satisfying, emotionally turbulent way. When Eva is finally able to, spoilers, fully love his son, after everything that happened, it’s absolutely heart breaking and tragic. And beautiful. It still moves me at my core just thinking about it. That is how damn powerful the eventual pay off is.
There’s some interesting symbolism at work here. There is, for example, a curious relationship with the color red in the film. It has a foreboding presence throughout the movie, almost as if it was lurking in the background in any given scene, waiting for the chance to leap to the forefront. I spent a great deal of the running time speculating just what it all was suppose to symbolize and whether it had some kind of a concrete color theme attached to it that you could decipher. I picked up on significance of the reoccurring use of heavy red very quickly, and once you start noticing it, it clearly serves a large purpose due to how often it keeps reappearing. From the very beginning it is present: in La Tomatina Eva is completely covered in the “lifeblood” of the red tomatoes. The type of wine Eva drinks is red. When she panics at the supermarket and flees, trying to avoid coming in contact with someone she clearly knows, she hides behind an enormous shelf of red tomato soup cans, in a frame that feels almost as the sea of red was about to swallow her alive. Then we have the porch and Eva’s car being vandalized by red paint during the night, which Eva is later shown trying to get rid of meticulously, as if as a clear allegory for desperately washing off blood from her stained hands, perhaps framed in this instance to mean her inherent need to alleviate her personal guilt or find forgiveness for her sins, whatever they may be. You probably can by now tell I have spent plenty of time pondering all of the possible allusions this might hold at great lengths.
Once I started my journey through this cinematic allegorical rabbit hole, it was not long before the film revealed another layer concerning color, to be then analyzed, interpreted and further mused upon. You see, at first I just saw the dominant red and assumed it was simply symbolizing raw emotions. I completely failed to see that the color blue also was doing a similar thing, in a more subtle manner. It’s only now in hindsight that I start to fully recognize its significance more clearly. Blue definitely seems to have a similar lingering presence akin to the red. It has to hold some kind of specific message or meaning along with the red. Why else would either be so often present? You find the blue in Kevin’s own room where the walls are painted in strikingly dark and strong blue, it’s there early on as the color of Kevin’s baby carriage in which we see him being transported in as a baby in the scenes where he’s crying nonstop and driving Eva to the point of exhaustion as she tries to calm Kevin down by taking him on stroll around the neighborhood, it’s in the eyepatch that Kevin’s little sister is wearing after she loses sight in one eye, the walls of the prison corridor that Eva staggers through are shaded blue, Kevin himself is even often shown to be wearing blue shirts, etc. The blue is rarely as strong and boldly presented as the red, which would explain why it’s harder to become aware of initially, but it is there, always, as if foreboding of the darkness that is to come, playing this mysterious game of duality with its opposite color, red.
The way I see it, at their most basic forms, the colors signal specific emotions that are dominant in the scenes that they appear in. Red is warmth, turmoil, panic, rage, life. Blue is coldness, despair, dark malice, detachment and death. Red is entwind to Eva, blue is inherently Kevin. They are Ying and Yang, though ironicallyin this case they are reversed, as blue would in this context represent Ying, the black and feminine principle, and Yang the red, the light and male principle.
Upon further reflection, the reoccurring use of red and blue might actually been a part of a grander design, a meticulously built thematic color coded narration tool that slowly throughout the story grows in intensity, subtly foreshadowing a tragedy that is to come, which ultimately is then revealed to symbolize the emergency vehicle lighting, the red and blue lights that switch back and forth. The emergency light that is heavily present once Eva arrives at the pivotal origination point of all her misery, looking for Kevin right before the horrible truth about what has happened finally dawns on her. If I’m right, and it’s all intentional, and part of a larger storytelling device that ingenuousness uses surrounding aesthetic cues to build an all encompassing, narrative driving symbolism that surrounds the whole film.
You know, I can actually remember seeing the trailer for this in the theaters. The disturbing and uneasy nature resonating through the canvas to the sitting audience did raise an eyebrow and had me mildly interested, but ultimately, as it often happens, I never got around seeing it in theaters. Thinking about now, I find that to have been fortunate happenstance. Though that was merely four years in the past, I feel strongly that I simply wouldn’t have had the capacity and life experience to fully appreciate just how damn good this film is had I seen it earlier. It would have been a bit over my head until just now, if I may sound a bit pretentious here. Suffice to say, I absolutely loved seeing this film. It’s impossible to pinpoint anything purely negative about the structure or acting. It’s impeccably made. Brava, Lynne Ramsay.