Are people born evil? What causes the most horrific crimes? What are the effects on the perpetrator’s family? All these questions are, if not answered, then at least discussed in Lynne Ramsay’s (Morvern Caller) adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s acclaimed novel. We Need To Talk About Kevin was a slow success in print form, selling over a million copies largely through word of mouth recommendations (the best kind of recommendations), Published in 2005, it’s journey to the screen has been rocky, passing through many hands before Lynne Ramsay took it and beat out a script with Rory Kinnear. Ramsay herself is no stranger to literary adaptations having spent years working on The Lovely Bones before the deal fell through and Peter Jackson arrived to pour sugar all over it.
Eva (Tilda Swinton) and Franklin (John C. Reilly) meet in the way people usually meet, via alcohol, presumably fall in love, move into an apartment with ethnic masks on the wall, have a chlild (the eponymous Kevin) and move to a gigantic house in the suburbs. Throw in a big, red car and you practically have the American dream. Unfortunately, Eva finds she has no connection with Kevin and worse, Kevin may be harbouring dark thoughts of violence.
The Book is written in diary form by Kevin’s mother Eva, in adapting it Ramsay and Kinnear have decided on a sort of flashback, disjointed, episodic style. Eva, in a small house all alone, remembers her courtship with her husband, Kevin’s birth, the family’s move to the suburbs from Manhatten, the birth of Kevin’s younger sister and the events leading up to Kevin’s “incident”. This style allows Ramsay to maintain one crucial factor from the book. Eva’s perspective. Every scene contains Eva, every moment skewed through her brain. Her viewpoint is constantly emotionally compromised leaving her a shaky protagonist at best, a mother justifying her sons indiscretions by any means necessary at worst. Her perspective on Kevin is not a pretty one, viewing him as an intruder from day one, Eva struggle with nearly every aspect of motherhood. The scene where workmen drown out Kevin’s screams whilst Eva breathes a sigh of relief is horrifying and understandable all at the same time.
Pallid, cat-like and androgynous, Ezra Miller’s Kevin is a sneering, calculating, teenage nightmare, locking horns with his mother on a psychological battlefield where he seems to control the higher ground. When Kevin is caught masturbating, he doesn’t flinch, merely continues more vigorously. With jet black hair, full red lips set in milk white faces and angular, striking features Eva and Kevin are near physical reflections of each other. Ramsay spends lots of time on shots of the two opposite each other, staring into each other’s eyes as if looking into a mirror (but not – thanks Face Off). Eva spends her time desperately trying to connect with a son who seems to be wilfully attempting to wound her with his friendly attitude to his father or doing exactly the things Kevin does right back at him. Has Kevin been “born bad” or has his environment and his mother shaped him? Kevin seems like a malevolent force straight out of the womb, only sharing two sympathetic scenes with Eva, one of those far, far too late. Stuck in the middle is Franklin. Blind to Kevin’s inner demons, he often sides with him against Eva. Played with typical straightforwardness by Reilly, Franklin is not showy role, only a necessary one, aiding and abetting Kevin until the end.
Playing like a horror, shot like an art house feature and with a story straight out of the worst realities We Need To Talk About Kevin is a thriller that dissects family values and explores unconditional love. A benchmark film that commemorates crimes seemingly exclusive to the late nineties and early years of this century. An intelligent adaptation of a fiercely written novel that holds it’s cards close to it’s chest, incrementally revealing it’s plot, it’s surprises and nuances for maximum effect until a bittersweet ending brings the full truth of Kevin’s behaviour crashing home, leaving Eva (and by extension us) none the wiser for an explanation.