We Need to Talk About Kevin cans and compresses the novel into 2 hours of bleak psychodrama. You can't look away, no matter how badly you may want to. Its not a thriller, its not a drama, its something...new.
Nothing is definitive here; director Lynne Ramsay leads us through Eva Katchadourian's mind with a series of impressions. Eva, once a highly successful travel writer, is left alienated by her son's horrifying actions, but in some ways it seems she was even more alienated by the act of becoming a mother.
That tension drives the narrative, which skips back in forth in time with no unifying through-line of its own. Did Kevin become evil because of Eva's alienation, or was Eva alienated by being the only person to recognize his malevolence?
Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller both excel in their roles, but Jasper Newell, as toddler Kevin, really steals the show. Eva's never allowed to know why he's driven to his grand final act, but we do; both Newell and Miller play Kevin as a blankly attractive container housing pure malevolence.
Still, we're not asked to sympathize with Eva, even as she makes small steps to reclaim her life. The movie stays centered in her perspective, and her perspective is clearly not to be trusted. Certain cinematographic details reveal that we're very specifically viewing her impressions of her life, what she imagines herself to be guilty of, and what she blames others for. As with Eva, we are left with no objective truth about Kevin to cling to.
The film cleverly limits John C. Reilly's role as the father of the monster, whose wide-eyed love of his son stands at odds with this peculiar psychic war between mother and son.
Kevin's not a movie for the faint of heart; it asks you to look deep within the hearts of Eva and Kevin to determine who the real monster is. The finale leaves us no doubt as to the answer to that question, but other questions linger. I'll leave you to find them out for yourself.