We Need To Talk About Kevin

Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of Lionel Shriver's novel is an essential but harrowing fable of parenthood: a story of nightmarish horrors in a discomfitingly familiar world, from which you can hardly dare look away. 

Eva (played unforgettably by Tilda Swinton) lives a reclusive life in the shadow of the Columbine-style massacre committed by her son, Kevin.

Harassed and persecuted as she stumbles through the ruins of her life, she is plagued by memories of the childhood that led up to Kevin’s unthinkable crimes.

Ramsay traces an impossibly fine line between the exceptional and mundane, as her film searches for the fault lines in a troubled mother-son relationship like – yet unlike – every other.

A rich vein of usually sublimated paranoia and guilt is revealed. The film offers a cathartic bloodletting for unspoken fears that coagulate in parents and children.

The foil to the film’s horrors is its anodyne setting. Its supermarkets, offices, schools, and Ikea-fitted homes are ours – or very nearly. Ramsay was unable to use any actual brand names; as a result her unspecified suburbia is faintly but pervasively touched by the uncanny. 

 

The critic Mark Fisher suggested that the film operates on a kind of anti-commercial register, with Eva as an inverted role model:

“Being an ‘unsympathetic character’ in effect seems to mean not being the sort of woman who looks as if she belongs in the magical kingdom of advertising ... Eva is ‘unsympathetic’, not because we cannot relate to her, but because she expresses ‘unacceptable’ attitudes towards motherhood.”

Formed of searing images and unshakable scenarios, and carried by a rattling, hair-raising Jonny Greenwood score, We Need To Talk About Kevin provides an essential, if decidedly unreassuring, picture of childhood.

Watch We Need To Talk About Kevin on TANKtv, streaming until 29 May 2020.

Sign up for a month's free trial here.