Monday, 6 August 2012

We Need to Talk About Kevin

We Need to Talk About Kevin is a 2011 film based on Lionel Shriver’s best-selling book. I still haven’t got round to reading the novel, but I’ve long been intrigued by the way Shriver ‘broke through’ as an author after publishing half a dozen books which made (relatively) little impact. She’s indicated that this isn’t because her best-seller was necessarily a much better book than its predecessors, but rather because her story-line just happened to capture public attention at the right moment. In the first place, the book’s reputation spread by word of mouth, always a powerful recommendation.

The film stars Tilda Swinton, whom I’ve seen in one or two less than engrossing movies over the years. Here, though, she is at her very best, playing the part of Eva, mother of Kevin, who turns into a spree killer. The film charts the troubled relationship between mother and son in an unflinching way, and the switches between past and present are handled much more effectively than is often the way.

Kevin takes pleasure in hurting others, and it becomes increasingly clear that he is capable of inflicting appalling cruelty. His father is complacent, but Eva’s slowly growing horror as she becomes more and more clear about her son’s true nature is skilfully portrayed.

Most people, including me, struggle to understand what motivates a spree killer such as Kevin. We find their mass murders appalling, but it is almost impossible to know for sure how further outrages – the Colorado killings are a recent example – can be prevented. Gun control is a big issue in the US, of course, but even the UK’s post-Dunblane society is not immune from these terrible tragedies, which so often end up with the killer dead as well as his victims, as with the horrific murder spree of Derrick Bird in Cumbria a couple of years ago. This film, and no doubt the book, offers no easy answers, but the portrayal of Kevin and his family background still struck me as insightful, as well as chilling.  


Anonymous said...

Martin - You are right that there are no easy answers to why and how such killer evolve and what makes them commit their crimes. How to prevent such crimes is an even more difficult question to answer. I've heard very good things about this film and I'm glad you found it well-done.

seana said...

The book is terrific, and I think I can say truthfully that it isn't the sensationalistic aspects that drew me to it. It has a wonderful narrative voice that just pulls you right in.

And I think it also has the merit of explaining nothing but the unique circumstance of its own story.

Sarah Hilary said...

Sorry, Ms Shriver, but I beg to differ. Kevin is a better book than your earlier ones by a considerable margin. Double Fault, for instance, is a terrible book and I for one would quite like to hear you own that!

Kevin is a masterful and manipulative novel, but one that ultimately lacks a heart. I haven't seen the film, so it was interesting to read this, thank you, Martin.

Melissa Smith said...

I don't mean to be a negative Nelly but I absolutely hated the book. The author kept repeating statistics over and over as if to say "look how clever I am, look how much research I've done". After awhile the emotional impact was lost. Each of these acts is horrible and somehow, including in the book seemed to cheapen them.
I didn't know a movie had been made out of the book. I'm not sure I'd watch it. Thanks for the review, I enjoy reading them.

LQQinSpace said...

Hi Martin,

That was quiet a disturbing film - very well played by all.

It's a pity they never did get to talk about Kevin. Instead they had those small arguments that parents have before dropping it once again.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Been afraid to read or see the movie. Too close to what goes on every day now.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Margot, it's a film well worth watching.
Seana, very good point about the merit of explaining nothing, which in other stories would drive me crazy, but here is quite right.

Martin Edwards said...

Sarah, Melissa, LQQ, many thanks. I will read the book one of these days - but there are others on the list to come first.