Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Movie Review: We Need To Talk About Kevin (spoilers)

So you guys know I don't usually review movies, but I had to post about this one.  I'm really not much of a movie buff at all, so I'm not a good critic in terms of what makes a movie good or bad.  But I reviewed the book  in detail a few weeks ago and loved it and knew I'd have to see the movie to make a comparison.  It's pretty much impossible to review the movie in comparison with the book without giving some spoilers about both, so be warned.  There will be complete book and movie spoilers in this post.  Now is the time to stop reading if you don't know what happens.

First of all, a short summary of the story: Eva and Franklin are a young couple very much in love who are both undecided on whether or not to have children.  They impulsively decide to try and Eva quickly gets pregnant.  From the moment she gives birth to Kevin, she has ambiguous, even hostile, feelings towards him.  Kevin is not a happy baby - he cries constantly, except when Franklin is around, and Eva is a miserable mother.  As Kevin gets older, he continues to come between Franklin and Eva.  He refuses to speak even though he is capable and he also refuses to potty train until he is well past toddlerhood.  In a fit of rage, Eva accidently breaks his arm and Kevin uses that secret (they tell everyone that he fell) to hold Eva captive.  As Kevin becomes a teen, and a second child is brought into the family, Eva continues to dislike him and wonder if he is stable, and Kevin becomes increasingly unstable.  It all culminates in a tragic school shooting and the murder of Franklin and Celia, the couple's daughter.

In the book, the story is told through letters Eva writes to Franklin and, of course, it is not revealed until the end of the book that Kevin murdered Franklin and Celia.  Because the letters are written in present tense, we get a split sense of time in the book - what is happening to Eva in the present day (rejection from the community, loss of her business, depression, etc) and the history of Eva's family from the day she met Franklin through the day of the massacre. 

As I wrote in my review of the book, the letters really reveal Eva to be an unreliable narrator.  She contradicts herself and her own story several times and we get a glimpse of her inner justifications for her ambivalence toward Kevin.  The reader is left wondering if Kevin was created by Eva's indifference or if Eva was justified in thinking Kevin was born evil.  The jumps in time from present to past also work well in the book because of the letters.  Eva usually opens a letter by talking about what is currently happening to her and then reliving a bit of the past.  It worked well and was fairly easy for the reader to follow.  It also gave us direct insight into Eva's mind, making her character much less reliable and much more ambiguous.

It was those two things that really threw off the movie for me.  Because we weren't inside Eva's head, we weren't able to know her thoughts and feelings (and justifications), we were only able to see her actions.  And while a few of her questionable actions are shown (telling baby Kevin that she wishes she were in France instead of with him and the incident where she breaks his arm), Eva's character overall is much more sympathetic and innocent in the movie.  What really made me love (and hate) her as a character were those inconsistencies in her story, the things that made me question if she was telling herself the truth or just making herself feel better.  None of that translates in the movie.  Eva is largely a sympathetic and innocent character who makes a few mistakes in the movie.  I really missed the ambiguity of her character and the impact of that on her relationship with Franklin in the movie.

I also thought that, had I not read the book, I wouldn't have understood the movie's timeline at all.  Instead of following the format of the book - a glimpse at the present day combined with a largely chronological telling of Eva and Franklin's history - the movie jumps frequently from various times and is interspersed with brief flashbacks and still shots of earlier times.  Were I not already familiar with the plot line, I would have spent at least the first half of the movie totally confused.  Even beign familiar with the plot, I had to pay close attention to Tilda Swinton's hairstyle to know what period we were in.  Without being in Eva's mind, it was much harder to sort out what was going on, who the characters were, and what time period they were in.

So those were my two significant complaints about the movie.  I will say that the creepiness and disturbing qualities of the book translated really well.  I thought the boys who played Kevin, both as a child and as a teen, were amazing.  They really captured his total creepiness as well as his ambivalent relationship with Eva.  It's a tense movie and if you're easily disturbed, I don't necessarily recommend it.  But if you've read and enjoyed the book, I think it's worth checking the movie out. 

A few warnings: the violence in the book is much more graphic than the violence in the movie.  We don't seen any of the school shooting in the movie, just the aftermath.  We do hear the sound of Kevin's arrows and the screams of the children, but no visuals.  Bodies are shown, but not the actual murders.  Also, there is one sex scene that includes nudity, but it is brief.  Lots of strong language, especially from young Kevin, which is pretty unsettling.


  1. I keep trying to decide if I want to see this or not. I did enjoy the book - although I'm not sure "enjoy" is really the right word. But I seem to get images stuck in my head easier with film than with books, so I'm not sure I'm brave enough.

  2. Carrie - there's nothing terribly graphic shown in the movie as far as the violence goes. I'm like you and tend to get images stuck in my mind, but this one didn't horrify me with the sights as much as what wasn't shown, if that makes sense.

  3. My relationship with the book is analogous to Eva's relationship to Kevin. It was awkward, a little creepy, but I can't escape it. I keep thinking about what I think is its main (unasked) question: How much blame can be placed on her?

  4. I believe Tilda's last name is Swinton, not Hinton.

  5. I just watched this movie and thought it was amazing! Although I did get a bit confused at first with all the time jumping - like you said.
    Ezra Miller played Kevin brilliantly.

    Your review really makes me want to read the book now as I'm quite intrigued about it being written in letters.

  6. je viens de finir le livre et maintenant le film............. j espère d’être mieux que le livre

  7. je viens de finir le livre et maintenant le film............. j espère d’être mieux que le livre

  8. The book gutted me, the movie captivated me. Brilliant casting and acting, the movie cast was exactly as I pictured them from the book and that hardly ever happens. The movie was easier to watch probably only because I knew what was going to happen. I don't know how a mum would survive it but this one did, excellent movie but I have to say I couldn't take the soundtrack! I had to turn it way down. Don't miss this book and movie!

  9. Captivating, frightening film. Now I feel compelled to read the book, which I will do. I don't feel John C Reilly was a good cast for the role as the husband, although the rest of the cast was perfect, especially Swinton. I recommend this movie to anyone who likes psychothrillers.