By Caitlin Gardner
Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin is an adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel of the same name. Tilda Swinton plays Eva Khatchadourian, a mother convinced that her son, Kevin, is a psychopath. Neither the film nor the novel are as straight forward as this description.
Ramsay directs the film in a non-linear presentation of events from Eva’s point of view. The opening half-hour can be held in a much firmer grasp after seeing the final 30 minutes. The tone is arresting and subtle, all hinging on Swinton’s quiet performance in which she feels all alone in her suspicion that Kevin is up to no good.
This is not a horror movie, despite the performances from Rock Duer, Jasper Newell and Ezra Miller as Kevin, who gives Damien from The Omen and Reagan from The Exorcist a run for their money as the scariest child in film.
However, the film is a post-Columbine reflection on the fears parents have over what their children could be capable of doing to harm others, particularly a nihilistic teenager like Kevin. For Eva, Kevin’s actions all seem to be set against her, though not necessarily directly against her.
The film may not be completely accessible for people who did not read Shriver’s novel beforehand. The film is not a word for word adaptation; characters are left out from the novel in the film, but Eva’s point of view and reliability as a narrator are more obvious in print than on-screen.
The first 30 minutes are full of overt symbolism and motifs that are not visually as subtle as in print. That said, Swinton as Eva gives one of the most devastating acting performances of 2011. It is a bit of a joke that she did not get nominated for an Oscar, as I personally would put her performance head to head with Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady.
Swinton is not showy by any means, but rather delivers a controlled performance as a conflicted mother whose maternal instincts repel her from her own son as the rest of the world comes closer to him.