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Valdrè, R. (2014). “We Need to Talk about Kevin”: An Unusual, Unconventional Film Some Reflections on ‘Bad Boys’, between Transgenerational Projections and Socio-Cultural Influences. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 95(1):149-159.

(2014). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 95(1):149-159

Film Essay

“We Need to Talk about Kevin”: An Unusual, Unconventional Film Some Reflections on ‘Bad Boys’, between Transgenerational Projections and Socio-Cultural Influences

Rossella Valdrè


Should we argue that there is so-called innate aggression in some children, a particularly tyrannical form of aggression? Or should we claim that, despite appearances, some forms of mother-child relationships can give rise to unconscious communications of hate and death, “a direct admission of death(Meotti, 1997)? And to what extent do social and cultural factors play a part in determining a teen murderer?

These questions are raised by the Scottish director Lynne Ramsay's disturbing and, in my opinion, poignant film We need to talk about Kevin (2011), based on the novel by Lionel Shriver. The film remains largely faithful to the text of the novel, which has been the most successful of all Shriver's books and has been translated into various languages; the central change to the film is the transformation from the epistolary form of the novel, in which the protagonist Eva (Tilda Swinton) writes imaginary letters to her husband Franklin, into a narrative in which Eva remains the narrator protagonist. The film starts with Eva visiting her son Kevin in prison, and then returns to the outset of the story, with numerous flash-forwards and flashbacks.

The plot is simple: Kevin (played by three actors from 6-8 years of age, then Ezra Miller in the teenage role) is born from the marriage between Eva Khatchadourian, a brilliant Armenian professional who emigrated to the United States, and the American Franklin (John C. Reilly). Wanted by his parents, at least on a conscious level, Kevin is immediately difficult, rejecting, exceptionally complex and particularly violent towards his mother. Later, he attacks his schoolmates and significant figures in his environment, culminating in a massacre in the school gymnasium in which, at the age of 16, he kills nine children, as well as his sister and father.

Condemned and incarcerated first in a juvenile prison and then in an adult prison, Kevin only receives visits from his mother; these meetings are heartbroken and painful, and it is from these that the protagonist reconstructs her memories and the story begins through her voice/ recollections.

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