It is almost impossible to think about a film adaptation without considering the book from which it originated. We Need to Talk About Kevin is a hard-hitting 2003 novel which recounts the aftermath of a fictional high school massacre told from the point of view of the killer's mother.
Lynne Ramsay's gritty film adaptation is about Eva Khatchadourian's experience of attempting to conform to society's expectations as a mother. She recounts the events from her child Kevin's conception to his school massacre, a horrific act that leads him to prison and leaves her utterly shattered. Early on the audience witnesses Eva amid the debauchery of La Tomatina - the tomato fight festival. The red props and smeared tomatoes symbolically convey that danger is imminent, and we soon learn that this danger stems from the birth of Kevin. La Tomatina is a clear metaphor for the massacre that will take place in Kevin's school later in the plot.
Tilda Swinton's portrayal of Eva Khatchadourian helps to foreground the issue of motherhood and raising children. It looks at the fact that despite how hard women attempt to conform to society's expectations of motherhood, it is not always possible to succeed.
The film questions the role that nurture plays in bringing up children. There are scenes in which Eva pushes her son towards a construction site in order to drown out the screams that Kevin tortures her with. After the massacre, while Kevin is alive in prison, it remains unclear whether Eva feels guilt about the way she brought Kevin up, or whether she blames the nature of the child that she brought into the world. Her erratic behaviour suggests she feels that elements of both exist.
Similarly, the fragmented narrative structure is indicative of the main character's non-linear thought processes. At times she is defensive about her behaviour in bringing up her child, while at other times she feels guilty for not longing for her child to come into the world, concerned that her rejection might have resulted in his later actions. This film, like the novel on which it is based, is a powerful study in post-natal depression.
The question of nature and nurture is never fully answered with this film. Although the conclusion is not clear cut, there is clear strength in Ramsay's iconic cinematography. A scene that shows Kevin pulling a lychee fruit apart, while discussing his younger sister's glass eye, has Eva searching for signs of evil in her own child. This is a disturbing but engaging film.