Hey little friends. I think this is gonna be a first over here for Drunk in a Graveyard, because I don’t know that I have ever done a book review and followed it up with a review of the film that the book source material inspired.
Last week, I offered up to you in the form of a Blitzed Book review my thoughts on the novel We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver, which was in my opinion a very well written novel and extremely disturbing.
In very few cases is the film ever better than the print source material. The Last Unicorn cuts in as one case where both are on par and both are wonderful, but I’m kinda hard pressed to think of others.
I knew prior to going into this film that We Need To Talk About Kevin, the movie version was a darling of all the indie film festivals when it came out back in 2011, and that Tilda Swinton was much lauded for her performance of Eva Khatchadourian as was Ezra Miller in his portral of ruthless sociopath Kevin Khatchadourian.
I stayed away from this film when it first came out because I tend to be wary of independent cinema. I’m all for the artsy and also fartsy but there’s a point where if I have to have on a striped shirt, a beret and be drinking Cab Sav and cramming gluten free baguettes down my throat while discussing Japanese Children’s Choir noise rock that I just check out literally and figuratively. I’m not “Art” enough for a lot of independent cinema.
I suppose you can also read that sentence as, “I’m not civilized enough to be bothered to dissect small tropes of meaning from scenes of oceans and wind and people staring at their ruined Manolo Blahniks in an effort to explain the deconstruction of humanity in an accurate but also ironic art house piece”.
I’m a cultureless crass rat like individual. It’s just my nature.
Anywho, the point I’m trying to make here is that I can only take so much artsy fartsy stuff before I just can’t anymore. So a pre-warning/trigger warning to all your liberal arts folks out there, because you may not like what I’ve got to say.
So, like all books turned film, there’s something about the medium of celluloid that seems to constantly fail to capture the subtley and nuance that exists within the written page. This is one of the most glaring issues between the book and the film adaptation of We Need To Talk About Kevin.
In the books, the story is told through the medium of letters from Eva to her husband Franklin after Kevin’s role in a school massacre. As the letters become more frantic and disjointed, you eventually learn that Franklin and Kevin’s sister Celia are dead. Kevin killed them. This is part of the driving horror of this story is that you have to keep guessing and it is not revealed to you so early on what happened and the details surrounding it.
The movie tries readily to emulate this, using flashbacks and artsy jolts of colors and long panoramic shots meant to give you an idea of how claustrophobic and upsetting the world of Eva Khatchadourian is. What I think really failed for me is not only how perfect the actual novel was which did indeed give me some unrealistic expectations for the film, but how annoying Eva was in the film.
I didn’t like her as a character in the book, but I completely detested her in the film. Tilda Swinton is a great actress, even though she is rather upsetting to look at, and I think she did a wonderful job of playing up the ambivalence of Eva.
However, and this is a big however, what was way way wayy too overly played up was Eva’s role as the martyr. One of the big debates around this book is the question on if Kevin was simply born evil or if he was made evil by Eva’s terrible parenting and lack of joy around being a mother. This movie edges towards Kevin being evil because of Eva’s terrible parenting style. This evidence is found in the constant appearance of the color red. It’s in practically every shot, stylistic and bloody. Eva becomes something of a Lady MacBeth unable to wash the red from her hands, her house, her ledger and her heart.
For the first little bit of the film, the constant red was visually interesting and after a while I was checking my watch. Look. Lynne Ramsey. We get it. We GET IT. She’s lady MacBeth and you once went to art school and barely fucking passed. Step down from on high and consort with us peasants. Tension was what was aimed for, and boring is the result. How terribly terribly dull, especially with a source book that is so so good.
On the subject of Tilda Swinton and her acting, I also felt that Ezra Miller who played older Kevin was good at being a smarmy ass piece of shit. Allegedly he is a smarmy ass piece of shit in real life so perhaps it wasn’t a stretch for him.
The scene of him jacking off and Tilda Swinton’s character walking in was pretty greasy though, right?
Since we are talking actors.. who the fuck cast John C. Reilly to be Tilda Swinton’s husband in this film? He’s so fucking goofy looking. Every scene he was in just made me want to pull my hair out. I’m all about suspending your disbelief and entering the world of fantasy but let’s take a second here and think. Who the fuck would marry John C. Reilly? And why would his wife be a stunning ten next to a barely minimal four?
A freshly washed John C. Reilly with a pocketful of cash is a 4.5, let’s get serious.
Anywho. I quite liked the acting chops on younger Kevin, who manages to demonstrate the flipping of the switch that Kevin is documented to have when going in between his parents. It was a great bit of acting for that little kid. Really conveyed what I was hoping for.
As for Celia, she was barely in the fucking film and beyond acting as a sound board to demonstrate how normal she was in comparison to how psychotic Kevin was, she didn’t have much function. Celia’s bedroom was yellow, cheerful, bright and filled with acoutrements of childhood, while Kevin’s room was flat blue, plain, nothing remarkable and completely devoid of customization.
The conversations between Kevin and his mother are sparse. He isn’t documented in the film to be the ruthless gloating psychopath that he is in the book. I felt this detracted from the big reveal at the end when he is about to be transferred to adult prison in which he demonstrates momentary vulnerability. It ended up being wasted, as there wasn’t that built up meaning of him going from cocky killer to scared little child.
The ending reveal was also devoid of the ending of the book in which Tilda Swinton’s Eva Khatchadourian understands that yes, she finally does love her son, and begins planning for his release from prison and how he will ultimately end up living with her.
The film shows her planning his room, painting it, painstakingly ironing his shirts.. and so this ending, the two of them, so inextricably bound together is implied rather than stated. From my understanding of Eva in the book, she needed to understand, to understand why she had Kevin, and to understand what drove him to kill. She asks, finally at the end of both film and book, “Why?”, and the answer Kevin gives is, “I used to think I knew, but now I am not sure”.
So, I hate to be a whiner, but this film wasn’t great. It had a few interesting bits, but even the gorey deaths of Franklin and Celia weren’t really intense. They weren’t horrific as much as kinda tacked on? Truthfully I’m surprised this film even bothered showing the deaths (well technically corpses) in the first place, since it seemed to rely on implication rather than technical showmanship.
In short, this film looked good. It had a lot of style, but after the fifth scene of red red red red red everywhere, it got old as fuck. Tilda Swinton, as usual, gave a great performance, but I can’t help but feel like this should have been portrayed in more of a thriller/horror fashion like the likes of Gone Girl, rather than something arthouse.
Anyways, make sure your children don’t grow up evil. Smother them in advance.
Oh, and always stay spooky!