Saturday, October 20, 2012

We Need to Talk About Kevin (book and movie)

We Need to Talk About Kevin
Starring Tilda Swinton
Directed by Lynne Ramsay

5 stars - highly recommend

This movie is getting five stars even though I'm not certain I will ever watch it again. That's how disturbing it was.

Let's cut to the chase. Just shy of his 16th birthday, Kevin Khatchadourian murders seven of his classmates, a cafeteria worker, and a teacher. Lest you think this is a slice and dice movie, it is told from the perspective of Kevin's mother, Eva, and all the violence is off screen.

In a way, I think the movie would have been less chilling if I had seen the his acts on screen as the imagination is so much more powerful at conjuring up just the images that leave us sleepless than any special effects and acting can ever be.

Tilda Swinton as Eva, Kevin's mother, is amazing. You can feel the tension and frustration oozing out of her as she watches her son grow into a monster. But a very clever monster. One who is not "lock him up" crazy and who can fool people into thinking that he's really OK. His mother is helpless to stop the unraveling of his life into sociopathic behaviors.

Ezra Miller, as Kevin, also does a great job. He is creepy, but not over the top.

The thing that really stuck with me is the borderline normalcy that allowed Kevin to carry out his increasingly malevolent deeds without every doing anything blatant that would draw attention to himself.

I wish I could have found something I would do differently under the circumstances. But I couldn't. And that, my friends, is what left me so disturbed. Because some horrors cannot be avoided.

We Need to Talk About Kevin
by Lionel Shriver

5 stars - highly recommend

After watching the movie, I went online to read some reviews and found a lot of people commenting that the book was just as good, if not better, and watching the movie in no way detracted from enjoyment (if that is the proper word) of the book.

They were right.

This is a densely packed 400 page novel. By densely packed I mean that the writing is so rich and compelling that every word of every sentence matters. The story unfolds as a series of letters from Eva Khatchadourain to her husband. In the letters, she relives the time leading up to Kevin's birth and the experience of raising him.

I found that the movie had been quite true to the book, but the book included more scenes and insights. Scenes and insights which only served to intensify my feelings of helplessness when I watched the movie. Because, again, I could find no flaw in the character of Kevin's mother.

Sure, she was a flawed human being. Aren't we all? But she did everything right and still her son was a sociopath.

Eva expresses herself with magnificent eloquence. I could feel her inner turmoil and frustration. I never lost faith in her. Even as she admitted to her character flaws, I clung to her humanity in the face of a life out of control.

Open the book at random, and you'll find the words of an exceptionally gifted author. Here's an example;

"I know you doubt me on this, but I did try very hard to form a passionate attachment to my son. But I had never experienced my feeling for you, for example, as an exercise that I was obliged to rehearse like scales on the piano. The harder I tried, the more aware I became that my very effort was an abomination. Surely all this tenderness that in the end I simply aped should have come knocking at the door uninvited. Hence it was not just Kevin who depressed me, or the fact that your own affections were increasingly diverted; I depressed me. I was guilty of emotional malfeasance."

As to the "why" of Kevin's central act, I will reveal nothing save that the discussion of same is handled very well and it leaves one feeling as if the bottom has dropped out of the room.


  1. I think I'll skip the movie, but I might give the book a try. This sounds quite a bit different from the 'father beat his mother, mom locked in him the basement for days on end' creation of a sociopath. And I have a train-wreck fascination (i.e. horrified but can't look away) with the development of abnormal psychologies.

    -Dr. Liz, who is currently re-reading 'Household Gods' even though I want to smack the main character upside the head (I'm re-reading it for the time-travel aspects of it; I know the authors are trying to strip away the romanaticism of the 2nd century AD, but still...).

  2. I think I'll read the book and then check out the movie.

    I'm still reading the Game of Thrones series...and audio reading (or listening) the first book of Shannara (sci-fi fantasy).But am always looking for new stuff!!

    Thanks for the great review Nancy!

  3. Thanks for letting me know about this book. I downloaded it today. When Rob and I were first married I went thru a true crime and serial killer phase. I borrowed every crime book the library had. I was fascinated with trying to understand what went wrong with these people. Then Rob told me I was making him nervous with all the killer books, so I stopped.

  4. Sounds like an interesting book. I'll go grab a sample!