We Need to Talk about Kevin is the award winning book by Lionel Shriver, written in 2003. The book demonstrates the life of a mother after her son started a massacre in his high school. Through a series of letters written to her husband, Eva Khatchadourian tries to come to terms with her son’s murders. It was adapted to the silver screen by Scottish indie filmmaker Lynne Ramsay in 2011.
The subject of school massacre is indeed a sensitive one, especially in America. Not a lot of American film makers dare to make a movie about it – Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine was the last brave attempt 11 years ago – probably the sensitiveness of the subject matter is the reason why it took 8 years to turn this sad and depressing story into an extraordinary movie.
Ramsay choose fellow scot Tilda Swinton (Young Adam) to play Eva, Kevin’s mother. The title role is played by 3 actors in total: Rock Duer as toddler, Jasper Newell as 6-8 year old, and Ezra Miller plays Kevin as a teen; all three actors give their first performance on the big screen.
The story revolves around the strange, loveless mother-son relationship that leads to the tragic events happening in the high school’s gym room. The director almost entirely lets the viewer to rely on their senses and logic to create the story. The movie has non-linear narrative; the images in the movie follow each other not in a strict, linear order instead, we see a lot of flash backs, flash forwards, and images that we can only assume are from the present time. One thing that can lead the viewer and helps to navigate in three different time slots is the mother’s hair; her hair is long and unruly before she gave birth to Kevin, short and rigorous after she had Kevin, half-length and scruffy after the incident. These physical changes also depict the inner struggles she went through after giving birth to her son.
Not only is the allegory of the hair is beautifully taken through the whole movie, but the color red as well. Actual blood is not once visible in the movie but there is rarely a scene without something vividly red in it: we see young and careless Eva first in the midst of La Tomatina, the Spanish tomato throwing festival; young Kevin spills red marmalade all over the table, Eva tries to get rid of the thick red paint her house was poured with. These images are all foreshadowing the disturbing events we can accept later, or due to the uniqueness of the narrative, we have already seen.
This movie is a must watch because of its artistic value but it is understandable that a lot of people will not watch it because of its disturbing story. Unquestionably it isn’t a movie you should download on a lazy Sunday afternoon to relax, nor is it a movie for a rainy day because it will make you more depressed. I had two pretty strong reasons to watch it when it came out: my favorite actress is Tilda Swinton so I instantly knew that she’ll give a marvelous performance, and Johnny Greenwood from Radiohead was responsible for the film’s soundtrack which turned out to be amazing(ly depressing). All in all, I would not recommend this movie if you have a child, if you are ever planning to become a parent, or if you had a bad day. I would definitely recommend it if you enjoy beautifully composed yet disturbing images and brilliant performances in a movie that are accompanied with an excellent soundtrack.
By: Eszter Tóth