Being a parent of a child who isn’t quite old enough to stay home unattended means that my husband and I don’t have the most thrilling social life in the world. Unless my mother-in-law is free and well rested, we stay home while the rest of the world gets to run wild and free. As a result, it’s rare that we get to the movie theater; we generally save our movie outings for things we absolutely cannot miss and things that will no doubt be spoiled for us on Twitter if we don’t get in early. We Need To Talk About Kevin was one of those films I wanted to see badly, just not bad enough to catch it in theaters. Thankfully, my husband spotted it on one of our movie channels and recorded it for us to watch.
Based on a novel by Lionel Shriver, the film stars Tilda Swinton as Eva, the mother of a troubled and strange boy named Kevin (Ezra Miller). [SPOILERS] We see Eva in the present day, living alone and shunned by the community, as she tries to cope with the ruined life that is her new reality. Through her memories, the audience is shown Eva’s family from the moment she becomes pregnant with her husband Franklin (John C. Reilly) up to the time her life fell apart. As a baby, Kevin fills the home with his shrill cries, never giving his mother any peace as she tries her hardest to be the loving mother her son needs. As a young child, Kevin refuses to be potty trained, wearing diapers and even mocking Eva by purposely soiling himself immediately after she has cleaned and changed him. At only six or seven years old, Kevin seems to be intelligent beyond his years, more manipulative than any child should rightfully be, and even a bit evil.
While Kevin continuously tortures his mother with his lack of affection and his defiant attitude, he is the sweetest boy imaginable when dealing with Franklin. His father does not get to see the cold and emotionless glare that Kevin lays on Eva, nor does he see any hint of the dark side of his son that is frightening and worrying Eva so much. Franklin sees Kevin as “just a boy,” certain that his wife is simply overreacting or just not understanding her son properly. Meanwhile in the present time, we see Eva struggling to repair the damage done to her small home by vandals while receiving nothing but hate, disapproval, or indifference from her community. At this point, I’m assuming that Franklin divorced her after Kevin lost his mind and did something terrible to either the family or the community.
The film jumps a bit, skimming past Eva’s second pregnancy and the arrival of a daughter, Celia. Blond and cheerful, Celia is the polar opposite of the dark and devious Kevin. She is loving and clearly adores her parents and big brother. As Eva tries to hold herself together, Franklin finds a new way to bond with Kevin by encouraging his new-found interest in archery and purchasing him a bow and arrow set. Kevin is a natural, hitting bulls eye after bulls eye to the delight of Franklin. There is no delight in Eva’s heart however; Celia’s lost pet is discovered by her in the kitchen’s garbage disposal, Celia is blinded in one eye by drain cleaner, and she suspects Kevin is guilty of the death and the injury. Of course, Franklin is not hearing a word of it and dismisses her suspicions as their marriage crumbles even further.
As Kevin’s parents plan a divorce, the nearly sixteen year old Kevin plans a massacre. While Eva is at work, Kevin brings his bow and arrow set to his high school and let’s loose on his classmates. Multiple students are killed, some are permanently injured, and Kevin is incredibly pleased with himself. The violent act quickly hits the news and Eva rushes to the school fearing for her son’s life. When she arrives, she begins seeing bodies penetrated by the arrows she knows belong to her son. When Kevin finally emerges from the school, the smirk on his face says it all and Eva slowly retreats from the scene as a broken woman. She returns to her home in search of her husband and daughter, finding them dead in the backyard, two more victims of Kevin’s violence.
Ezra Miller terrified me, as did Jasper Newell who portrayed the younger version of Kevin. The cold, dead and dark eyes, the hate in his gaze when looking upon his mother, and the small hints of joy that entered his expression when causing his mother pain felt so real that I found myself loathing and hating Kevin even as a child. He manipulates his clueless father into seeing him as a sweet little boy who is growing into a wonderful young man. He gives his mother a single moment of normalcy one night while sick, cuddling up to her as she reads him a story, but quickly returns to his true self and gives her nothing more than indifference and defiance. Both actors who played Kevin amazed me in the way they gave the character life and allowed the audience to feel the same pain and fear felt by Eva.
Tilda Swinton is perfect as Eva. Socially awkward, often unsure, but always committed to being the best mother she knows how to be. I myself would have given up on Kevin, but Eva hangs on for dear life and is constantly searching for ways to connect with him and to find a path to his heart. She sticks with her son until the very end, remaining in a town where she is hated in order to be able to visit him in prison. At the end of the film, Kevin’s shell cracks and his nervousness about a transfer to an adult facility seeps through. As the visit concludes, Eva asks Kevin why he did it. Kevin replies that he thought he used to know, but now is no longer sure. Eva embraces her son and he is taken away. It’s a sad moment, but Eva seems to be so hopeful that her child may finally become the son she wanted him to be.
We Need To Talk About Kevin gives us a glimpse into the lives of a family that could very well mirror a family in your own neighborhood. With the multiple and frequent violent acts in schools across the country, we are constantly struggling to find the WHY and the HOW. Was it the fault of the parent? Should the child have received therapy or medication? What were the warning signs? What was the reasoning? In the film, Eva is blamed and tormented because of Kevin’s actions, even though she tried her best and did what she could to be a loving mother to her troubled child. Could she have done more? Of course, but no evidence exists that would allow us to say that certain actions would have prevented the violent events. As outsiders, it’s easy for us to pass judgment and make suggestions, but impossible for us to know for sure what we would do if our own child lashed out. This film allows us to get a glimpse at the creation of a psychopath and the horror of the aftermath, hopefully also giving us a bit of understanding and hopefully some sympathy.
I adored this film, but it also gave me nightmares. It is terrifying to think that a child you created and loved could be so cold and heartless, even at a young age. It’s scary to think that a child could be so manipulative and crafty that one parent could be totally blind to the problems while the other parent sees nothing but those problems. It’s sad that a community could place blame on the family of the guilty party, adding to the pain and grief they are already feeling by shunning them and sometimes causing physical harm, emotional damage, or property damage. If I didn’t ruin the surprise for you, I definitely recommend checking this film out. I also plan on hunting down and reading the novel that inspired it; hopefully it lives up to the hype. Happy viewing.