Film & TV, The Muse

Ezra Miller’s “endless source of horribleness” in We Need to Talk About Kevin

Ezra Miller is a complicated, brooding teenager, but one who ruminates far outside the perimeter of the ordinary pubescence.

Miller, 19, is the eponymous star of We Need to Talk About Kevin, a chilling introspective on the evolution of sociopathic mania in seemingly normal life. Miller’s portrayal of the sadistic Kevin, whose entire adolescence is a practice to antagonize his mother Eva, (Tilda Swinton) is a mature character study. Yet, during our recent interview, Miller dissected Kevin into rational themes. He empathized with Kevin as being one in the category of “those we don’t understand.” He defended Kevin’s “longing” and “yearning.” And it was a bit frightening…

Photo courtesy of BBC Films

“The second that I read the script, I really wanted it very badly,” explains Miller. It was a long audition process of six auditions – and a year of quiet after the financial crisis – before Miller was confirmed for the role. “I was constantly pestering my agent about where [the role] went. I feel very lucky that…my persistence survived the auditioning process for a film that I wanted so badly, it almost drove me to madness.”

Miller’s obsession to grow close to Kevin came in the “challenge of someone who was simultaneously hard to understand and very understandable,” a mission that mirrors mother Eva’s same attempts in the film. Throughout the film, Kevin terrorizes his family, each act growing in brutality as he grows older. Some of his acts are near unbearable to witness onscreen, an experience perhaps made more harrowing by filmmaker Lynne Ramsay’s implication, rather than visual exhibition, of much of his savagery.

Kevin’s ruthlessness not only distresses the audience, but emotionally exhausted Miller too. “Draining is the word… caught up in the emotional state of the character. It’s amazing to discover your own endless resource of horribleness. It renews itself …it’s not even intentional…”

Despite Kevin’s cruelty, Miller doesn’t perceive – and doesn’t play – Kevin as psychotic. “When I initially read the script, [I saw] sociopathic behavior is written all over. The more I considered it…the more I came to think that he is not a sociopath, he is someone who, over the course of his life, responds to circumstance,” explained Miller.

Responds to circumstance. This is the same justification often bestowed to defend juvenile criminals of horrendous crimes. And while Miller certainly doesn’t condone Kevin’s havoc, when prompted, he admits that he “connects” with Kevin.

“What was intriguing was that [Kevin] is this person who has basic deprivations in [his] early life, is hyper aware, and then is someone who, from a young age, found [his] own tools, in terms of exposing and bringing to the surface, the harsher realities of this situation. And then, [Kevin is] someone for whom those tools became more comfortable and perhaps the only available mode of operation.”

Miller’s empathy for and apparent connection with Kevin do invite questions into the darkness of their shared penumbra. Yet, Miller’s fraternity with Kevin does result in artistic mastery. Miller’s sympathy for Kevin warps into a performance so palpable that audiences themselves contort their seated bodies at their anticipated, rather than visual, horror. Miller can furnish this unrelenting anxiety, even with small, meticulous ticks of disturbia, because he renders Kevin, so relentlessly and unforgivingly, human.


We Need to Talk About Kevin released in Boston on March 9, 2012.

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