Film No 20 (2014) : We Need to Talk about Kevin

kevin shriverWith so many books to choose from, there are hardly any which I read more than once these days. ‘We Need to Talk about Kevin’ by Lionel Shriver (who, incidentally, is a woman) is one of the rare ones. Having read it the first time, I was totally fascinated and read it again soon afterwards. The film version was released in 2011 and stars Ezra Miller as Kevin.

Kevin has committed a High School atrocity, killing students and teachers, but not himself. The book is narrated by his mother, Eva, played in the film by Tilda Swinton. She is brilliantly cast, as one of the questions about Kevin is whether he was born evil, or made that way; the Nature/Nuture debate. Tilda Swinton is not a cosy actress; she is androgynous and her interpretation of Eva is uncomfortable to watch, just as it was unsettling to read.

The film is beautifully shot, with stylish settings, minimal clutter. It has a starkness which reflects the bleak story. Kevin has it all; decent family, enough money, caring parents. What leads him to turn on his own. Is he mad? Or bad? However, the story which unfolds in the novel is told through Eva’s inner dialogue and this doesn’t translate well to the screen. There were many scenes in the film where I would simply not have understood the implications of the action, had I not read the book. As a film in its own right, ‘We Need to Talk about Kevin’ is artful cinema, but it doesn’t tell the story. In this instance, I’m afraid the written word wins, hands down. Bullseye.