To celebrate the last decade 2010-2019 we are counting down the best actresses and discussing some of their most notable and memorable performances of the last decade. With the help of Film Twitter, the ITOL team have selected 30 actresses. Entry No. 13 is Tilda Swinton, and writer Jossalyn Holbert looks at her roles in “We Need to Talk about Kevin” and “Suspiria,” with “The Dead Don’t Die” as an honorable mention.
By Jossalyn Holbert
Tilda Swinton has graced the screen with her uniquely talented acting and her — how shall I put it — strange facial features for years. Her look defies gender and normality, molding herself into whatever role she is inhabiting at the time. We will focus in this article on a few of her key performances, i.e. “We Need to Talk about Kevin” and “Suspiria,” with “The Dead Don’t Die” as an honorable mention.
“We Need to Talk about Kevin”
“We Need to Talk about Kevin” is the story of a mother, Eva (Swinton), and son, Kevin (Ezra Miller). Kevin commits a heinous act of mass murder, killing several of his fellow high school students with a bow and arrow. This fact reveals itself little by little as Eva copes with her new life as the mother of a killer.
Swinton holds an eternity of sadness in her face as she contends with the loss of her child, a child that is still alive but that holds an impenetrable evil within him. Eva faces the repercussions of the mass murder that her son has committed while still trying to exist in the world. She becomes the face of his actions while he is imprisoned, having red paint splattered over her house and having mothers of lost high schoolers hit her in the street. Swinton’s face carries this burden, deeply ashamed and hurt by the fact that her son is remorseless about his killing. In an age of mass shootings, this sentiment is all too relevant.
Eva’s relationship with Kevin is fraught during his first sixteen years, as he disrespects her at every turn while giving his dad, Franklin (John C. Reilly), no shortage of love. Eva’s anger towards Kevin becomes so forceful that at one point in the film, she breaks his arm.
Tilda Swinton has graced the screen with her uniquely talented acting and her — how shall I put it — strange facial features for years. Her look defies gender and normality, molding herself into whatever role she is inhabiting at the time.
Director Lynne Ramsey does a masterful job at building suspense by jumping back and forth in time, and we get a comparison of Eva as a struggling mother and Eva as a heartbroken mother, mourning the loss of her innocent child and of innocent children she did not give birth to. Swinton’s assistance in distinguishing between these periods of time has entirely to do with subtle nuances in her facial expression.
Eva and Kevin become altogether difficult to distinguish by the end of the film, with Kevin’s vile actions reflected on the very surface of Eva’s face. It is Swinton’s strange look and masterful acting which makes this possible.
Swinton takes on a slightly different type of motherly role as Madame Blanc in “Suspiria.” Her ethereality takes a new form as Madame Blanc’s dark hair cascades down her back, her clothes as wispy and lengthy as her body. Madame Blanc is trying to keep her coven of witches from running aground with the help of a dance academy. Like the original 1977 “Suspiria,” Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) has a certain affinity for the academy, feeling it’s pull even from the US.
Madame Blanc and Susie have a mother/daughter-like fascination with each other, Madame Blanc molding Susie into a perfect medium for witchy pursuits and Susie pushing back with her own power.
Like “We Need to Talk about Kevin,” “Suspiria” is no stranger to Tilda Swinton’s unusual facial deliberations, for example when she witnesses Susie’s audition. Swinton’s alien features make her the ideal witch in this role.
The film, of course, culminates in a feminine orgy of mass witchery, a free-for-all that Susie commandeers. Madame Blanc has an unlucky fate, although it is unclear as to what exactly that fate is, but what is clear is the impact she has on this coven and this film. The richness and talent Swinton brings to the role can only be described as ghastly.
Tilda Swinton is — overall — a strange and empathic actress, feeling the weight of audience emotion and using that to her advantage.
Honorable Mention: “The Dead Don’t Die”
This is mostly for my own amusement, as I enjoyed watching Jim Jarmusch’s “The Dead Don’t Die” more than I expected to. Tilda Swinton has a small role as Zelda Winston, a thinly-veiled version of herself who wields katanas and slices zombies to bits. She is also an alien.
That’s right, Tilda plays a katana-wielding, Irish-sounding, long-haired alien. Her role is entirely ridiculous and I can’t recommend watching this movie enough to get the full effect of such hilarity.
Tilda Swinton is — overall — a strange and empathic actress, feeling the weight of audience emotion and using that to her advantage. She recently had a small role in “Uncut Gems” as the auction manager, only her voice making an appearance. As always, I look forward to watching what exactly it is that she accomplishes next.