We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)

We Need To Talk About Kevin tells the story of a high school massacre from the perspective of the killer's mother.

Does that sound like the sort of thing you'd like? Then read the book. Lionel Shriver's novel approaches its subject matter with a chilling restraint. Lynne Ramsay's film adaptation, though beautifully shot and brilliantly performed, ultimately comes across as little more than a nuanced remake of The Omen.

It's worth watching for two things. First, the haunting soundtrack which blends scratchy blues with a strange mix of ethnic instrumentation and industrial droning. Second, the incredible career-best performance of Tilda Swinton.

Swinton is fantastic throughout. She doesn't say much, but she exudes the sort of sadness that you can almost feel as a pressing weight on your chest and stomach – an all-encompassing grief that manifests itself as debilitating fatigue and nausea. Her Eva radiates an unbearable pity which makes the whole film emotionally draining.

But that's part of the problem. We aren't exactly supposed to pity Eva.

In the translation from the page to the screen, we are inevitably robbed of many things. Most obvious is Eva's narration. And, as a result, we also lose a delicious slice of ambiguity.

Eva has a son called Kevin. Kevin is an insufferable monster. But was he born this way?

The book insists that he was indeed born a monster. However, there's the subtle implication that Eva simply didn't lavish him with a sufficient amount of love, patience and attention to prevent his inherent mental health problems from developing into full-blown nihilistic sociopath psychosis.

The film, on the other hand, quite explicitly implies that, despite Eva's best efforts, Kevin was just a bad egg. He was always going to do what he ends up doing.

And that's really quite hard to take. It reduces what is supposed to be an intriguing and gruelling exploration of the nature/nurture debate into the realms of quasi-supernatural horror.

Also, halfway through the film, Kevin grows up and is suddenly played by Ezra Miller. This is the first time I've ever seen Miller in anything, so I'm in no position to assess his chops as an actor. His Kevin, though, just feels wrong. Of course, Kevin is supposed to be an amoral superior husk. But is he really supposed to be so irritating?

In any case, I'm sure he's not supposed to be so attractive.

So yes. Read the book. Apart from anything else, it fills in many, many plot holes concerning “the incident” and even manages something of a happy ending.

At least, it manages a poignant ending which, thinking about it, sort of makes me want to stop living. The film, though, ends in such a way that seems specifically designed to troll those who like closure.

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