We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)

Surviving on red wine, pills and perpetual self-loathing, Tilda Swinton’s haunted mother is a broken figure whose splintered edges slice right through the heart of this confident book adaptation. We get to know her through flashbacks and snap-forwards. The fragmented framework constantly wrong-foots but rivets for that very reason. Something happened to this woman, and it’s not going to be easy finding out what.

It starts when Eva (Swinton) gives birth to Kevin. At first bearing the necessary frustrations of a newborn (the constant crying) with stony grimaces, Eva’s ambivalence toward her offspring only grows as he does. She tries to get him to talk. To play. To do anything aside from stare unfeelingly into her etched, weary face. By the time he’s a young boy, he’s still wearing nappies, refusing to grow up with a mother who, we discover, is entirely indifferent to his growing. Later, when he’s almost 16, Kevin will murder swathes of his classmates in a bloody high school massacre. Who’s to blame for such behaviour?

Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s troubling tome is a wonder. Hiccupping through a jumbled timeline with drunken aplomb, it’s a film that feels like a collection of memories. Through an ever-growing patchwork of scenes, we see the world through Eva’s eyes, her memories, and attempt to find some sort of truth. The truth, though, is as ephemeral as Eva’s grip on reality. “I want you to tell me why,” she demands of her son in Kevin’s closing moments. His reply is both chilling and poignant.

As unsettling as its source material, Kevin was never going to be an easy film to digest. In Ramsay’s hands, it is a queasy, exquisite nightmare. Who’s to blame for Kevin’s behaviour? Ramsay leaves the answer in your hands. 5/5