We Need to Talk About Kevin [2011]

I hadn’t planned on a blog post about this film when I watched it on a whim last Sunday. But here we are, three days later, and I still can’t get it out of my head. I had started reading the novel by Lionel Shriver years ago but never finished it. It was based mostly on letters from one character to another, and I remember that boring me and I ultimately gave up. Watching the movie, however, has put it back on my list—I really need to give it another shot. Any story, be it book or movie or television episode, that sticks in my head like that counts for something. So let’s talk about Kevin.

Kevin is, to put it bluntly, a monster. A clever psychopath who can be incredibly charming when he wants to be, the only person who actually sees Kevin for who/what he really is is his mother, Eva. The movie is from Eva’s perspective, as we see how she has handled not just trying to raise a downright evil child, but coming to terms with the (seemingly inevitable) horrifying crime he commits at school when he’s fifteen. There is also some ambiguity as to whether Eva may have contributed to Kevin’s cruel nature, as she was a happy, successful travel writer who put her career on hold when she got pregnant with him and thus resents his very being from the start, when he cries incessantly as an infant.

Eva’s husband, Franklin (played by one of my favorites, John C. Reilly) is blissfully ignorant to most of Kevin’s terrible behavior, because his son puts on a show for him as the good son whenever he’s around. Then, when anything does happen, Franklin is able to easily dismiss it as “boys being boys” or a simple accident rather than something more malicious. This pits husband and wife against each other in a years-long battle about how hard or easy to be on Kevin when he misbehaves.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is disorienting to watch, and intentionally so. The movie jumps in time almost at random—often all you have to go by in order to tell where we are in the film is Tilda Swinton’s haircut. It could be annoying but it works, for as the story goes on you realize that Swinton’s Eva is in a constant disoriented state, and not just after Kevin commits his act at school, but just raising him. He constantly has her off balance and waiting for the other shoe to drop. After the crime, she is just as on edge by the way the community turns her into a pariah, vandalizing her home and car, and cursing her out on the street. She’s far from perfect, in fact she’s really not even all that likable, but it’s almost impossible not to feel at least a little sorry for her.

Speaking of Swinton, her performance is incredible, as are all the performances across the board. Ezra Miller is riveting as the teenage Kevin, but the youngster who plays him as a child is equally good at being evil. Reilly is great as the naive dad, and even the little girl who plays the youngest child, Celia, is good. Swinton was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance, but how she didn’t also get an Oscar nod is beyond me. The film also won awards for director Lynne Ramsay, who went on to helm the also excellent and disturbing You Were Never Really Here, starring Joaquin Phoenix. With these two films she has quickly made my list of directors whose films I’d watch based on their name alone.

It probably goes without saying that this movie isn’t for everyone. It does revolve around a massive tragedy, after all. But as I’ve mentioned before, sad stuff is my jam. If it’s yours too, you should watch We Need to Talk About Kevin. It’ll stick with you long after the credits roll.

Published by Kenneth Jobe

Kenneth Jobe is a writer, photographer, musician, and Native Californian living in the Midwest with his wife and son. His fiction has been published in Jitter, The Rusty Nail, Ghostlight: The Magazine of Terror, and the horror anthology Robbed of Sleep, Volume 2.

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