Saturday, 29 October 2011

We Need to Talk About Kevin: Book vs Film

We Need to Talk About Kevin is based on the book by Lionel Schriver which, through a series of detailed letters, looks at life through Eva Khatchadourian's eyes as she deals with the aftermath of a school shooting where her teenage son Kevin was the shooter. Through writing to her now absent husband (and Kevin's father) Franklin, she considers who is at fault for Kevin's actions on that Thursday. Is it all her fault? Was the lack of motherly affection to blame? Or was Kevin simply born evil?

Directed by relative newcomer Lynne Ramsay, the film adaptation has won numerous 5* critic ratings, was dubbed Best Film at the London Film Festival and has received praise from audiences the world over. It has been dubbed the film of Tilda Swinton's career and even the poster has a quote from the book's author Lionel Schriver saying "A brilliant adaptation of my novel". This is a lot of hype to live up to when the film has only been out for a week. So does it live up to the hype?

Well yes and no...

All the acting is flawless. Tilda Swinton is stunning as Eva, both as the young mother struggling to connect with her son and post Thursday mother dealing with the backlash and still finding time to visit her teenage son in jail. Ezra Miller is delightfully menacing as Kevin. He manages to be both charming and sinister, capturing with apparent ease the stiff antagonistic relationship with mum Eva in perfect parallel with the easy, dutiful son to dad Franklin (John C. Reilly).

Lynne Ramsay and co have done the absolute best possible adaptation of the book. And therein lies the issue. The book does not lend itself to film adaptations. As the entire book is written in letter format, the reader takes what is said with a pinch of salt. This is, after all, Eva's perception. She insists she spotted things, warning signs so to speak, about Kevin and his behaviour which Franklin disagreed with. But, of course, this is all with hindsight. As she is writing the letters post-Thursday it is easy to see that her version of events may be slightly misleading. How much is she exaggerating or imagining something that never actually happened? You never know. This is, after all, her point of view - not Kevin's and not Franklin's. This ambiguity is what makes the book such perfect literature. Nothing is spelled out for the reader, it is all open to interpretation. In the film, there is no ambiguity. It is still Eva's point of view but with no narrator-style monologue or reference to the letter-writing style of the book, it appears more as fact than opinion.

Also, some of my favourite parts of the book were the scenes in jail where Eva and Kevin talk. The dialogue was so fantastically dry after Eva realises that asking "How are they treating you" and "Are you eating OK" just wasn't relevant any more. She dares to ask questions she couldn't before Thursday. It revealed everything and nothing about their relationship and was gripping from start to finish. I was really looking forward to seeing this on the big screen. Sadly, there is not a lot of this in the film. There are visits but normally they involve the two sitting in silence until visiting hours are over.

The horror of the final section of the book is played very subtly in the film, with flashes of memory popping into Eva's head (and onto the screen) throughout the film and focused shots on Kevin as opposed to his victims. It focuses more on the reactions of the families than the actions themselves, the repercussions of Kevin's actions and what that has meant for all involved. The constant jumps between times are easy to follow, largely thanks to Tilda Swinton's ever-changing hair cuts, and add something to the constant haze Eva is living in. Visually, the use of red lighting went a little overboard in my opinion but I can see why they thought it atmospheric and relevant to the mood of the film.

Overall, the film is beautifully shot, perfectly acted by all and a haunting look at human interaction. It has very cleverly avoided the opportunity to sensationalise the deaths and kept the focus on the characters. A great film - if you like that sort of thing.

4/5 FOBLES - film
5/5 FOBLES - book


  1. Having seen the film last night but only having read the first few chapters of the novel, I was interested in reading this dual review.
    I thought the film was excellent. It was beautifully shot: the blood/red paint/red jam/tomato imagery was well done as were the close-ups: Eva's bare feet, the nail clippings etc. Tilda Swinton's acting was superb. As a film I could not fault it. But it did leave me wondering about what had been left out.
    I very much felt that, though a film, I was being shown a story through the eyes of Eva. She was there in virtually every scene. And I wanted to know what did others, outside the family, make of Kevin? In some ways, the film had a claustrophobic feel. It was always Kevin with his family -apart from a few significant scenes. I wanted to know how his fellow pupils and his teachers at school regarded him. Could his mother have been the only person who knew what Kevin was really like?
    These and other questions (which I won't go into here for fear of committing a spoiler offence)have made me decide to revisit the novel again. It is also giving us the story from the point of view of Eva and I am used to dealing with an unreliable narrator. But I want to know more, more than could ever be shown in a 2 hour film.

  2. i read the book and loved, but sad to say I hated the movie. I didn.t care about anyone in the film. I found the directing pretentious.

  3. I'm an avid reader and this book shot to my favorites list instantly. That being said, the film was sadly disappointing. The acting was fabulous, however the film makes a common mistake among indies. It is very choppy and drawn out. Also, it fails to mention most of Kevin's creepiest moments leaving him portrayed as a meer brat. This is not the case in the book. When you read Shriver's novel, there is no doubt something has always been very wrong with Kevin. Also missing from the film are several instances where others (both in and out of the family) seem to have an aversion to Kevin, thereby validating Eva's perception of her son.