Do we really need to talk about Kevin?

Art & Culture

You will be reading rave reviews of Lynne Ramsay's new film, We Need To Talk About Kevin in pretty much every newspaper review across the board. But I feel the need to issue a public warning. This Film Is Heavy Going.

Not since David Fincher's Se7en have I staggered out of a cinema with such a weighty load of depression hanging over me. The other thing that Kevin shares with Se7en is implausibility.

Just as Kevin Spacey's fiendish serial killer, cunning in the extreme, and capable of infinite cruelty just for the sake of sadism, failed the elementary test of credibility, so does Kevin. This is the child from hell, whose every waking moment is dedicated to making his mother's life a misery, for no other reason than the original book's author, Lionel Shriver, decreed that it should be so. We are simply asked to take it on trust that his hatred for her is implacable, and that his desire to ruin her life is infinite.

Does this remind you of something else? Like The Omen or The Exorcist? Fiendish children who kill for fun, and behave like no children known to (wo)man. Because, speaking as a parent, and as someone who has seen a lot of children, I absolutely refuse to believe that children are Born Bad. Which is what WNTTAK seems to be suggesting. And if this is so, my next question is, why?

I see some of the publicity for the film uses phrases like "Every parent's worst nightmare." Well let me tell you that every parent's worst nightmare is something happening to their child – illness, accident, whatever our irrational fears can produce. We do not lie awake at night, thinking, "hmm, I do hope little Tommy/Polly isn't a potential serial killer who hates my guts." Unless of course I was a serial killer myself, in which case, I suppose I might be keen for them to follow in my footsteps.

I am not having a go at Lynne Ramsay, who is a wonderful director. She has done an excellent job of adapting and restructuring the book, which is, as you will remember, made up of letters from Kevin's mum to Kevin's dad. Nor am I knocking Tilda Swinton, a wonderful actress, with a rather wintry face, whose expression of gloom and doom is utterly appropriate to the part. But I am questioning why critics and audiences have been such unquestioning fans of the book, and now the film. Is this some kind of middle class guilt trip, that we try to imagine some horrendous (if improbable) fantasy and then pat ourselves on the back because it hasn't happened to us personally?

I don't have an answer, but I do feel that it's only fair to alert those planning to go and see the film, expecting something with a little more warmth and fun, that this is like going to several consecutive funerals, then, for a change, going to a hospice ward full of the terminally ill. The effect the film had on me was to make my heart sink right at the beginning, and then over the next 2 hours, managing the impressive feat of lowering it still further.

I beg anyone who sees the film (or is thinking of doing so) to let me know what appeals to them about it, and whether I am exaggerating its impact.

Phil Raby

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