Having read the book when it first came out in 2003, I finally got around to seeing We Need To Talk About Kevin last night. The movie was adapted from Lionel Shriver’s novel and directed by Lynne Ramsey and the adaptation is faithful to the spirit of the book. We Need To Talk About Kevin tells the story of the Katchadourian family and focusses on Eva Katchadourian as she tries to cope with her ambivalence after the birth of her first son Kevin. Years later Kevin embarks on a high school massacre and as Eva struggles to deal with the aftermath she wonders if she is responsible for her son’s actions.
(In saying all of the above rest assured that I haven’t ruined the plot for you. To warn you against spoilers I would advise that you don’t visit the Wikipedia page for this movie or read any of the reviews until you have watched the film in its entirety. There’s a pretty major plot point at the end of the book that they have kept to the end of the movie too and if you know about it in advance it really does take away from the overall impact of the film. You have been warned!)
In the aftermath of the Columbine High School Massacre in 1999 there were a number of films and documentaries that tried to make sense of the event, Gus Van Sant’s Elephant and Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine being two of the most well known. We Need To Talk About Kevin looks at these events from the perspective of the mother of one of these children – how she will forever be blamed and have to atone for her child’s crimes, her feelings of guilt, and wondering what she could have done to prevent her child turning into a murderer. It is a fascinating viewpoint and one that is of particular interest to Shriver as she has chosen not to have children and is interested in the idea of motherhood as a “given” for most women.
The book is in epistolary form and initially director Lynne Ramsey wondered if she should use a voiceover to convey the narrative. Shriver convinced her not to do this and so the film is without dialogue for long portions. This is a risky strategy but one that pays off when an actress as gifted as Tilda Swinton is involved. Her face conveys every emotion, every thought, and ultimately she ends up making Eva Katchadourian far more sympathetic than Shriver’s portrayal in the book.