Film of We Need to Talk About Kevin is shocking but thought-provoking

Published by Emma Lee-Potter in on Sunday 16th October 2011

“Well, that was cheerful, wasn’t it?” muttered a middle-aged man as the credits rolled at the small basement cinema in Covent Garden where we’d just seen a preview of We Need to Talk About Kevin.

The rest of us didn’t utter a word. I, for one, felt like I’d just been run over by a ten-ton steam-roller. I’d gone to the movie with my teenage daughter but was so emotionally wrung-out by what I’d just seen that I could barely speak till we were halfway back to the tube station.

There’s no way you can feel indifferent about We Need to Talk About Kevin, the much-anticipated film of Lionel Shriver’s 2005 Orange Prize winning novel. It’s the story of Eva, a mother who puts her ambitions and career aside when she has her first child, Kevin. But far from building a warm, loving bond, the icy-cool Eva finds herself unable to love her son and can’t relate to him at all. Whether she’s throwing a ball to him, playing mini-golf or taking him for a meal at a restaurant when he’s a teenager, their relationship is brittle, artificial and chilling.

Even though the subject matter is grim, the film is beautifully shot. It moves back and forth in time, from the days when Eva was a go-getting travel writer to the aftermath of the horrific high-school massacre perpetrated by the teenage Kevin. The colour red features throughout the film, from opening images of Eva taking part in a tomato throwing festival in Spain to her house and car being daubed with red paint following Kevin’s shocking act – red paint which Eva constantly attempts to scrub off her hands.

There’s no doubt that Tilda Swinton (above), as Eva, gives the performance of her career, and Ezra Miller as the teenage Kevin, is utterly mesmerising. But for me, watching Eva grapple with her feelings of grief and responsibility for her son and his actions was just too much to bear.

Directed by Lynne Ramsay and with a 15 certificate, We Need to Talk About Kevin is released on October 21. It’s controversial, shocking and thought-provoking – but not easy to watch.

7 comments so far

  • I haven’t seen the film, but I was gripped by the book. I don’t want to see the film as the characters live in my mind, and the film might spoil this.

    In the book, I never for one moment thought Eva responsible for the way in which Kevin turned out. By the time that he was was born, she wanted him, despite her initial misgivings about having a child. He failed to respond to her from the outset and deliberately antagonised her, such as deliberately soiling himself until at last she broke. I thought she made a remarkable effort with him, given the malign nature of the child.

    It boils down to the debate between Nature or Nurture. I think there’s something to be said for the Nature side of the augument.

    I wonder why little was made at the time of the book coming out to the debt it must surely owe the excellent short novel, ‘The Fifth Child’, by Doris Lessing.

    Talking of sons, I have one arriving today …

    Liz X

  • Thanks so much for commenting, Liz. I agree that it’s very much the Nature v Nurture debate, but I think that Nurture has an impact too and that Kevin must have picked up on Eva’s misgivings about having him. I haven’t read The Fifth Child, so will definitely put it on my reading list. Hope you have a lovely time with your son today.

  • I, too, was gripped by the book – I suppose I’m interested to see how they would make it into a film, but would have to go on a day when I was feeling strong.

  • Thanks Jo. I found the subject matter very hard going but I do think the film adaptation is faithful to the book, and beautifully shot. But definitely go when you are feeling strong.

  • I was taken by the book’s honest portrayal of what can be a difficult mother/child relationship and then the whole family relationship centering around an emotionally distanced child.
    The book moved carefully, gradually more intrigueing as the relationships emerged.

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