The pressure felt by Tilda Swinton and Lynne Ramsay not only to secure the rights but to deliver on the film adaptation of ‘We need to talk about Kevin’ must have been immense. The frank, intimate and self realizing nuanced narrative tone of the letters in Lionel Shriver’s hugely successful best seller wouldn’t be easy to portray on screen without some alteration. Lynne Ramsey has succeeded in bringing Shriver’s novel to cinematic life, whilst retaining her own creative direction as a director.
‘We need to talk about Kevin’ is Lynne Ramsey’s triumphant return to film since her last celebrated project ‘Morvern Caller’ almost ten years ago. Told in a fractured narrative, with extreme close ups, playing with scale of food, space and colour she repels yet intrigues us. It may take viewers a while to come into focus with Ramsey’s vision but it’s a film which is compelling viewing both narrative and cinematography. The mind boggles at the notion she may have taken on the project of directing ‘The Lovely Bones’ but was pipped to the post by Peter Jackson.
Tilda Swinton plays the emotional draining but enlightening role of Eva a woman who ponders her role as mother, parent and ex wife in the aftermath of an epic atrocity committed by her son. Kevin is brought to life by a career changing performance by Ezra Miller who wears sadistic, sinister teen deviance well.
Have we been here before? Some would argue yes with Gus Van Sant’s ‘Elephant’, Oliver Stone’s ‘Natural Born Killers’. Although the role of modern instant fame and the need for recognition on any scale from the media is portrayed here as with the latter, all roads lead back to the role of Eva Khatchadourian in Kevin’s early life. Is her resistance to nurturing him in the conventional mother role the reason for his later acts or was he just born a sociopath. Is her resistance fueled by her initial blasé attitude towards having a family and missing her continental and cultural lifestyle.
All of ‘Thursday’ could be read as a way to simply to taunt her. Although he acts aloof and uninterested there is a disturbing atmosphere that suggests he enjoys her extremely trying and difficult visits to prison as he can dig the knife in further. Even after his 15mins are up. It’s seems that Kevin is lacking natural empathy for other people. Whilst this maybe true to a certain extent it is clear he enjoys manipulating and making Eva suffer which would mean he would have to recognize pain and anguish as emotions and a way to hurt her. Making him no less human, should we try to understand him. Does this derive from his feelings of being unloved and unwanted by Eva as a child. These are left open for viewers to ponder as we experience Eva living in the everyday aftermath of his mess, whilst trying to process her potential part played with in the proceeding moments.
Its to be applauded the specific and sharp direction Ramsey and Swinton took the book. It’s a stripped adaptation and by nature many lovers of the book will acutely point out various points which were disgarded in order to bring their vision to the silver screen. The key performances by Swinton, Miller and C Reilly, combined with the cinematography used to created Eva’s now distorted jointed world say as much as the book without shouting lifted lines or sequences from Lionel Shriver’s novel. There is a particular moment when Eva comes in contact with a victim which does not appear in the novel which is profound, heartbreaking and actually gives viewers a sense of hope and humanity. Whilst ‘Columbine’ may seem more relevant to those reading the novel at the time of release, the film actually comes at a moment when people are worried about what to do with modern youth again. ‘London Riots’ and ‘Norway Shootings ‘ have contributed to making this film adaptation just as relevant. Like the book it raises more question than it answers, about the nature of parenthood, society and responsibility.