We Need to Talk About Kevin is certainly one of the most disturbing and squeamish films of mother and son to come along in recent memory. Adapted from the acclaimed novel by Lionel Shriver, the story is a riveting nature vs. nurture debate that is sure to have its audience stunned.

Tilda Swinton plays Eva, a mother of a boy whom she seems to lack maternal instincts for. From the moment Kevin was born, Eva approaches motherhood with ambivalence.  There’s one painful scene in which she can’t console Kevin as an infant. Holding Kevin out in the air with a confused and helpless expression we see her disconnect to this child. Through a jarring narrative it’s quickly revealed that the teenager has gone on a high school killing spree, and we see Eva’s experience in dealing with the aftermath, grief, and feelings of responsibility for her child’s actions.

Tracing Eva’s relationship with Kevin from a disturbed preschooler, to an unhinged teenager, we see their relationship unfold. Three young actors play Kevin, Ezra Miller as a teenager, with Jasper Newell and Rock Duer as the younger Kevin in the earlier scenes. All actors are superb and equally disturbing in their own way, particularly Jasper Newell as the toddler version who at a mere four years seems to get what’s going on inside the character.

While never abusive, there isn’t an emotional connect between the Eva and her son.  The relationship with Kevin’s father Franklin is really no better. Franklin (John C. Reilly) approaches the relationship trying too hard to be Kevin’s friend, and disregards his emotional problems as anything serious. One thing is known for certain, this family is in much need of repair. While the film is sometimes difficult to sit through, it’s an involving and emotional cinematic experience.

Not the obvious candidate to play the role of Eva, Tilda Swinton slides into the role naturally. Every moment she’s on screen her face communicates loneliness and shame. Her accent is also interesting, which has a slight New York and Connecticut ring to it. Swinton has an exotic look to her, but it never hinders her performance. Like any great cinema actress, Swinton throws herself into every in role she in. She can do everything from costume dramas (Orlando), indie films (Julia, The Deep End), to huge studio epics (The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe).  She’s the credible art house actress that major studio directors often take advantage of when casting.

At a November screening at the Pacific Design Center, Swinton attended a question and answer. In person she is quite charming, not nearly as tightly wound as many of the roles she has played. She said she views the film as a Greek tragedy that is ultimately a love story between mother and son. Swinton had a passion for the film, and felt that its subject matter is rarely discussed let alone seen on film. Swinton has been attached to producing this role for some five years, and has been with the project since Lynne Ramsey signed on to write the screenplay and direct.

Come award season will this performance strike a nerve with the voters? Winning the Oscar for Michael Clayton in 2008 certainly has put her on the Academy’s radar of actresses to watch.  It’s one of her best performances, and that says a lot considering her strong resume of roles. If enough see the film before they cast their ballots there’s a strong chance Swinton could be getting her second nomination in January due to the fact that it’s a film that sticks with you long after seeing it.

What is wise about Ramsey and Swinton’s approach to the material is that it doesn’t leave its audience with answers. The whole film is a question mark. The film avoids being a social commentary on parenting, but tells its tragic story with raw emotion.