Lynne Ramsay’s We Need To Talk About Kevin is an adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s 2003 novel, taking a look at the fundamental relationship between parent and child, through a candid exploration of psychology.
Fifteen years after the publishing of the original novel, it is a film that, unfortunately, still resonates today, in terms of its central topic. This psychological thriller delves into the life of Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton), in particular, her relationship with her son Kevin (Ezra Miller), and experience after her son commits a massacre at his high school.
In a constant back and forth between the past and present, the story is gradually pieced together like a traumatic, inescapable fever dream of Eva’s, who (in the present) walks through life practically detached from reality as she deals with the aftermath of her son’s crimes. We watch Kevin grow up, and delve into his complex and frustrating relationship with his mother, which brings into question the sociopathic tendencies of a child and how this perhaps resonates with the nature versus nurture argument.
As a baby, Eva struggles to calm Kevin and blames him for ruining her life. As a child, she unsuccessfully attempts to share affection as well as discipline him when he acts out. It is also during this time that Kevin displays resentful tendencies towards his mother, deliberately antagonising her whilst charming his father. Time passes and the strain between the two grows, particularly with the arrival of a new sibling. After a tragic accident in the family, Eva blames Kevin whilst her husband tries to defend the son, unaware of his sociopathic tendencies. As an adolescent, Kevin murders several students in his high school as well as his father and sister, forcing his mother to live in what basically becomes hell on earth.
With every minor (or major) act of defiance from Kevin, Eva becomes increasingly exasperated. Kevin refuses to breastfeed, toilet train, continues to masturbate when Eva accidentally walks in on him, all the while looking her directly in the eye. However, Eva moves to a house near the prison in which Kevin is incarcerated, continues to visit him, and even recreates his bedroom exactly as it was, ready for his release. So the immediate questions that arise are: Does she forgive him? Does she love him? And how closely are the lines blurred?
Some of the most prominent imagery that is intrinsic to the film is the prominence of red, bleeding across the screen, taking on its traditional symbolic value of representing guilt. Whilst the massacre occurs off-screen, there are a number of scenes where red seeps onto the screen in substitution. In one scene, Kevin makes a sandwich, smothering thick, red jam all over the bread, and pushes the two pieces of bread together, causing the jam to overflow. Later, Eva makes the same sandwich for her lunch, with this image drawing a parallel being herself and her son. When Eva is in the supermarket, she sees the mother of a victim and goes to hide behind the aisle. The camera pans to her standing in front of an entire shelf stacked with crimson red soup cans, as she tries to run away from the guilt she feels, personified by the mother of a victim right before her. In a flashback, Eva is shown at La Tomatina, drowning in the thick puree of crushed tomatoes. In the present, she is intermittently depicted covered in red paint, as she tries to remove the vandalism from her house. In drastic contrast, Kevin is pristine in his white shirt as he exits the high school after committing a massacre. This draws on the fact that Kevin seems guiltless despite his crime, meanwhile, Eva is forced to live with the guilt of what she could’ve done to prevent this all – was there anything she could’ve done differently?
This film has a particular resonance in current American society and offers a necessary exploration of an alternative perspective. Whilst We Need to Talk About Kevin delves into childhood psychological development, an element that would be amiss to not identity, the narrative focuses on the parent of the criminal, which is an experience we do not often consider in such cases.
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