We Need To Talk About Kevin


We Need To Talk About Kevin was submitted to the BBFC in July 2011. The film, produced in Britain, is an adaptation of a critically acclaimed and shocking Lionel Shriver novel about a mother trying to come to terms with her son’s high school killing spree.

The film has clear category defining issues, such as strong and very strong language, but also tonal issues that contribute to the film’s bleak and potentially upsetting emotional landscape.

It is a good example of a film where both these elements, the content of a film, and the way it makes you feel when watching it, influence the age rating. The film was submitted in 2011 without a specific age category request.

There is some strong language in the film, which takes any work to 15. The single use of very strong language occurs during a dinner conversation between the mother and her son. The boy, Kevin, is portrayed throughout the film as increasingly disturbed, with an open hostility to his parents especially his mother. Here he is trying to shock and shame his mother for trying to establish a relationship with him: when she tries to ask him questions about his life he refers to an imaginary girlfriend as ‘some cute little c**t in the front row that makes me itchy’.

The word is not directed at anyone, or accompanied by violence; it is used to embarrass his mother for trying to be friends with him. The BBFC Guidelines allow for some uses of very strong language at 15, as long as they are justified by context. Kevin’s use of the sentence is calculated to shock and upset his mother and the scene is therefore important in establishing the extent of Kevin’s anger, not just an unstable mental condition but a person capable of savage hostility.

There is a scene which includes implied masturbation. There is no strong nudity or detail, but the scene is disturbing. Kevin’s mother walks into a room where he is masturbating and he continues to do it to provoke her and make her feel confused and ashamed. As there is no strong detail this is acceptable at 15, where there can be strong sex and sex references. We also see a series of soft porn images that flash up on a laptop computer and a moment of implied fellatio. Again there is no strong detail but the images are not discreet and require a 15 under BBFC Guidelines.

The killings themselves are revealed toward the end of the film with some blood and gore. They are shown mostly in aftermath, implying what Kevin has done. The bloodiness of Kevin’s victims lends a strong tone to the images.

The film explores an area of mental illness that is frightening and difficult to deal with. It follows a mother’s grief, guilt and confusion which can make for an uncomfortable viewing experience. The issues, although each individually acceptable at 15, only tell part of the classification story. The 15 is also established by the tone and theme of the narrative which is aimed at older teenagers and adults.

While the standard short ratings info lists the obvious issues, the full long ratings info sets out the film’s theme as well as referring to Kevin’s disturbed state of mind.