Based on the hugely popular book by Lionel Shriver, we finally have here a film adaptation that has been promising to make its way onto our screens for six years, since the BBC bought the rights. I strayed away from ever reading the book for fear of it being another mass outbreak of anyone and everyone screaming “this is amazing” that really just stemmed from a recommendation on Richard & Judy, herds of sheep unquestionably chewing it down like grass. Based on this tasteful and tense film, I suspect I may have been wrong in my decision to avoid.
Thankfully, I wholly benefited from having no pre-existing knowledge of the book and was left almost agonisingly on edge throughout the film - the impending sense of doom and dread was palpable from the opening, beautifully shot first few minutes of the film. The film’s timeframe is as sporadic, unpredictable and jittery as the behaviour exhibited by some of the protagonists, jumping from place to place and from mood to mood constantly throughout. Even with glimpses and allusions as to what the final moments will bring (for us non-book-readers) it still creates a continuously uncomfortable sense of what’s to come and makes the film as difficult as it does recompensing.
The story is a simple one on a fundamental level, but an exceedingly complex one on a psychological level. We have Eva Khatchadourian (wonderfully played by Tilda Swinton) as a successful young woman who inadvertently slips into the role of suburban mother. Her resentment at clearly giving up on her profession and youth, coupled with having a difficult and extremely manipulative child (Kevin), wreaks havoc on her life - the straining relationship between the two becoming the focal point of the film. The film, much like the book, is told essentially from the perspective and mindset of the mother, so we see through her eyes, we view her frustrations and ultimately view Kevin as she does. The ever-begging question that lingers cloud-like above the whole film is "who is the victim?". As we see it from Eva’s eyes, she has spawned a sociopathic, manipulative child who torments his mother from a very early age and throughout the remainder of his life. Husband Franklin (played rather aloofly by John C. Reilly) is the objective voice, the one who sees the late stages of talking, the toilet training trouble, and the disruptive behaviour as simply normal childlike behaviour. A doctor too clarifies there is nothing wrong with Kevin medically. It is this underlying tension that bubbles throughout the film with a rabid intensity that makes it almost painfully and brilliantly ambiguous in its explorations.
Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood continues to prove what a master of sound he really is, creating another seamless and beautiful score that not only accompanies the film but feels ingrained into it.
The direction is magnificent, simultaneously delicate and gritty. There are visual metaphors that run through the film as through a burst damn, and the visual layers match the narrative ones in sheer abundance. The varying stages of Kevin - from the grumpy, unresponsive toddler to the grumpy, unresponsive teenager - are all cast and acted superbly. The sheer frustration and sense of victimisation we feel from the position of Eva is almost physical, making one share her anger and resentment, to the point that you begin to hate the child as she does. This is a truly brilliant accomplishment in filmmaking that explores the depths of viewer manipulation in film on a multi-faceted level; if we seemingly hate a child, is it indeed evil or is it our own view that is skewered? Who do we trust? And do we believe what is presented to us? The questions are plentiful and the answers are few. The abstruseness is the key to the film and indeed the story (no doubt in the book too). Whether this is a successful adaptation or not is not for me to say, but it is one of the most rewarding psychological thrillers I have encountered in some time and it warrants cinematic investigation on its own accomplishments.
Now showing at the Showroom