Review: We need to talk about Kevin

By on May 1, 2013

KevinBy: Elodie Mertz

I had passed it several times in bookshops. It caught my eye before but I always had another book on my reading list, and then the day finally came – I read We need to talk about Kevin. The end result? Absolutely no regret, PLUS it now has a place of honour when it comes to my “must-have read” list.

Originally an epistolary novel written by Lionel Shriver and published in 2003, We need to talk about Kevin has been adapted by Lynne Ramsay into an eponymous movie in 2011.

The subject? Sensitive – a (fiction) school massacre in the U.S. – is made more tricky by the choice of the narrator. The story is indeed told from the point of view of Kevin’s mother, Eva, who’s sending letters to her ex-husband. Written in a clear and elevated style, the book put some subjects in the hot seat, as for instance the social, and even the personal, expectations when becoming a mother. It also offers an interesting insight of what is like to be the mother of a killer: a victim and a culprit at the same time. The book however never defines Kevin’s mother exclusively like one or another and keeps a subtle nuance till the end. That makes Eva a realist character, full of contradictory feelings and wishes, who shows some clear-sightedness about herself and her mother’s role now her life has been shattered by her son’s act. The author doesn’t fall in the pitfall of being Manichean or drawing up a protest against a pro-weapons American society.

And if you’re worried that this book doesn’t have anything in-store to keep the your interest up as a reader, don’t worry! The atmosphere and the pertinent narrative construction with flashbacks added in, makes this book a success. Plus, the end delivers a unexpected twist.

Obviously, since I loved the book so much, I was really curious to watch the movie. To me, it seemed like it would be a real challenge to illustrate on-screen a character’s thoughts exposed through letters. As expected, the movie is slow and psychological; it’s more about atmosphere than action. Even though he doesn’t necessarily do a bad job, I wouldn’t have chosen John C. Reilly to play Franklin (Kevin’s father) because in my head, he is always going to be the guy singing “Cellophane, Mister Cellophane, shoulda been my name” from Chicago.

On the contrary, Tilda Swinton is made for this kind of deep and “weird” role, acting cold but simultaneously letting some strong inner emotions showing through. The same goes for Ezra Miller, playing Kevin, without over-doing the psycho guy and instead, displaying a very restrained and mature demeanour. Although quite well done the movie doesn’t have the intensity and the catching dimension of the book which will immerse you in the head and feelings of Eva. In the movie (because it’s all visual and thus a bit external) things are only suggested in a quick linking, meanwhile the book offers more details, deepness and subtle transitions.

I remember when I finished the book and turned the last page, I didn’t know what to think, I was on the verge of tears, realizing how cruel, fragile, compassionate and complicated we are humans. 

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