By the Book: We Need to Talk About Kevin

A comparison between book and film. Contains spoilers

The Lynne Ramsay film adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s marvelous novel We Need to Talk About Kevin is flat and emotionless. The film looses all emotional impact in both the plot and removes the twist that makes the novel’s ending have such an impact.

Both the novel and the film center on Eva’s relationship with her son Kevin. Eva struggles with feelings of apathy towards her own flesh and blood. But when Kevin causes a school massacre, it seems that Eva may reason to feel apathetic towards her son.

The book is written in first person letters from Eva to her husband. These letters describe her current life after Kevin’s attack and well as reminiscing on her past with her child. Eva seriously considers her choices as a mother. She was stricken with apathy towards this child, and the book explores two opposing ideas: did her apathy cause Kevin’s issues or did an inherent badness in Kevin cause her apathy. You struggle along with Eva to understand her thoughts and feelings as well as those of Kevin.

The film captures none this emotion. Eva’s letter are excluded entirely, and the events are filmed with a huge slant. You get the sense from the beginning that something isn’t right about Kevin and that just magnifies as the story goes along. The characters are flat: Tilda Swanson’s Eva is affectless and dispassionate; John C. Reilly’s father is so one sided, he doesn’t even consider the mother sides; and Ezra Miller’s Kevin is devious from the beginning. The only depth any character shows is when Kevin is sick and plays the mama’s boy.

The film is not very well delineated. Memories and present are mashed together with no discernable plan. Why are we going back to the past? When did this event happen? In fact, if I hadn’t read the book, I would not have been able to follow what was happening. The movie saves the actual atrocity that Kevin did until the end. Because of this, the shocking psychological twist of the book is destroyed because it comes on the heels of Kevin’s school attack. Plus, by not including any narration of Eva’s letters to her husband, a lot of the emotional impact from the twist is lost including the fact that the husband’s present situation is even a twist.

The film rips apart a thought provoking emotional journey through motherhood and anti-social personality disorder. The film is one dimensional and discombobulated. Skip the film and go directly to Shriver’s source material.

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