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We Need to Talk About Kevin

A 2011 film directed by Lynne Ramsay

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Are Monsters Born, or Are They Made?

  • Dec 14, 2011
Star Rating:

Are monsters born, or are they made? It’s obvious that Eva (Tilda Swinton) was ambivalent about her pregnancy, and by the time her son Kevin was born, she realized that having a child was never something she wanted. Throughout all stages of Kevin’s life, we see just how aware he is of his mother’s indifference, and how he uses it against her. As a baby, he cries incessantly. As a toddler, he develops slowly, not learning how to speak and seeming uninterested in simple activities like rolling a ball on the floor. He remains in diapers well into his elementary school years, at which point he provokes his mother in more personal ways. As a teen, he appears to have adopted no sense of morality towards his family or people in general, regarding just about everyone with contempt. It’s at this point that he massacres a group of his classmates in the school gym with a bow and arrow.
We Need to Talk about Kevin, based on the novel by Lionel Shriver, is a tremendously challenging film. It’s not only because of its ambiguous characters and emotionally draining subject matter, but also because it provides us with no answers. But really, what answer would suffice? That Kevin is definitely a sociopath? That he was unquestionably raised by a bad mother? We can all agree that a terrible crime has been committed, and yet these go-to explanations say more about the intrinsic need to assign guilt than they do about the people involved. In Kevin’s case, the word “sociopath” is never officially applied. And with the exception of the school tragedy, all of the things he gets blamed for remain unproven. We only have strong implications, most of which are made by Eva. And what of her? Inattentiveness, which is indisputably her condition, is not now and has never been an automatic catalyst for a child’s bad behavior.

The film is constructed not as a linear story but as a random jumble of memories. Essentially, Eva is trying to process her life over the past twenty years or so. We see her first happy dates with Franklin (John C. Reilly), who would go on to be her husband. We see her as a successful travel agent. We see them together when Kevin is already born; Franklin, though loving, lives in a deluded state of familial idealism, and has been manipulated so thoroughly by Kevin that he continuously turns a blind eye to his cruelty. He will, in fact, often accuse Eva of blowing situations way out of proportion. We see their second child, a girl named Celia (Ashley Gerasimovich), who we suspect was conceived solely to satisfy Eva’s desperate need to bond with a child. Indeed, she dotes over her daughter, and the two get along wonderfully. But how fair is this, replacing one child with another?
We see her after the school tragedy, understandably shellshocked. She lives alone in a new house and is forced to take a job at a second-rate travel agency in a strip mall. She’s despised by the much of the community for being the mother of a murderer. She spends much of her time scraping red paint off of her front porch – obviously the work of angry vandals. In an early scene, she’s approached by a woman she doesn’t know and is quite suddenly smacked across the face. Does Eva deserve this kind of treatment? She’s later approached by one of Kevin’s victims, who now sits in a wheelchair. The young man shows no hostility towards Eva at all. Does he have a right to be mad at her? We see her visiting Kevin in prison, unsuccessfully trying to probe his mind and find a reason why.

The two key performances are by Jasper Newell and Ezra Miller. The former plays Kevin from the ages of six to eight, while the latter plays him as a teenager. As played by both actors, we see a horrifying yet remarkably intelligent person working, and in two distinct instances succeeding, at getting his mother’s attention. This is not to suggest that he craves her love. He wants, for lack of a better term, an audience. The irony is that, despite Kevin’s viciousness and Eva’s intensifying fear of her son, they are the most authentic people in each other’s lives. Eva probably understands her son better than she cares to admit. Complicating these characters and their relationship even further are two scenes in which Kevin actively seeks his mother’s affection.
Questions will repeatedly surface. Did Kevin intentionally put caustic drain fluid in his sister’s eye, causing permanent blindness and the need for a glass replacement? Did he knowingly kill her pet gerbil and stuff it into the garbage disposal? Director/co-writer Lynne Ramsay is well aware of the conclusions most audiences will automatically come to, and that’s what makes this movie so fascinating: It ultimately says more about us than it does about the characters. No matter who you are, no matter what you believe, you will definitely be bringing something to We Need to Talk about Kevin. It shows not the slightest interest in actions or even in consequences, but in behaviors – and, consequently, in the mystery of their very existence. On that note, I leave you with the very same question I started this review with. Are monsters born, or are they made?


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February 18, 2012
Kind of surprised you loved this; given your comments towards nihilistic storytelling and all. But I haven't seen this movie (yet) so maybe I can't have a say in that quite yet.
February 18, 2012
Although the title character takes a nihilistic viewpoint, the film as a whole does not send a nihilistic message. It merely leaves all our questions unanswered. The intention is to challenge the audience to read the characters, to at least try to understand what they're feeling and where they're coming from.
July 19, 2012
Having finally seen it (twice), I can actually agree with that. I thought it was a great film, disturbed the hell out of me.
December 18, 2011
I will comment further once I've seen it which should be sometime after the holidays. My area is always late. Tilda Swinton looked errie in those stills.
December 18, 2011
As far as I know, it will not get a wide release until January 27. One of the advantages of living in L.A. is that you have access to films that run for a week to qualify for the big awards. I will soon be posting a review for W.E., which doesn't open wide until February.
December 14, 2011
OMG this sounds so tragic - this one sounds tragic enough I would feel a little angry watching it! I enjoyed this review.
December 14, 2011
Tragic, it most certainly is. Easy to define, it most certainly is not. It's sure to evoke a wide range of emotions within audiences, anger being one of them.
More 'We Need To Talk About Kevin' reviews
review by . June 03, 2013
A Mediocre Film
So this is another book to film adaptation. Considering I haven't read the book I cannot compare them (although I do plan on reading it eventually). The film was alright. I think Ezra Miller and Tilda Swinton were phenomenal in their roles but I think it seemed typical to cast Tilda as the role, it just seemed 'her' to me. It dragged on far too much, not really going anywhere. Being a teenage girl I definitely cried at the end, which I think was the best part.    All in …
review by . July 19, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
**** out of ****    The first shot in Lynne Ramsay's "We Need to Talk About Kevin" is of an open window. What lies beyond that window shocked me more than anything I have seen so far this year and last in the movies. It isn't something that I find offensive; but something cold, inhuman, and indecent. That's not going to sit well with a lot of people, and without spoiling what "it" is, I will say that Ramsay is a brave and talented director for not only showing what she had to …
review by . September 21, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
A stunning film
Eva (Tilda Swinton) is a wife and mother who has just experienced the last in a series of shattering incidents. In flashbacks, we see her happy life change forever with the birth of her unusual son. From that first day, she never feels any bond with him while he seems equally detached from and even hateful toward her.      This is an incredibly intense and heartbreaking film, dealing with the problem of alienation, the nature of familial love, and unspeakable violence. All of …
review by . January 20, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
'We Need To Talk About Kevin' 'Two Jews On Film' Agree & Disagree About This Powerful Drama (Video)
            By Joan Alperin Schwartz      What would you do if you suspected that your six year old son was an evil sociopath?  (Are there any other kind?) I know what I would do...Lock him away and throw away the key.       Unfortunately, this is not what Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton) in 'We Need To Talk About Kevin' does.  In fact,  Eva does absolutely nothing …
Quick Tip by . June 22, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Adapted from the novel by Lionel Shriver, “We Need to Talk about Kevin” is a horrifying look at a mother’s heartbreaking experience as her son goes on to commit a massacre at his school.      Are parents somewhat responsible when they see the warning signs of the makings of a homicidal behavior and yet fail to address such things? Are monsters born or are they made? This film engages the viewer into the depths of a mother’s guilt as well as her own descent …
review by . December 31, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Brilliant Conversation
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN Written by Lynne Ramsay and Rory Kinnear Directed by Lynne Ramsay Starring Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilley and Ezra Miller   Dr. Foulkes: He’s a floppy little boy, isn’t he? But there’s nothing wrong with him.   I know we’re supposed to talk about him but I have a very hard time talking about WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN. (I meant to write this review three weeks ago and just couldn’t do it until now.) From the moment it opens, …
About the reviewer
Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #2
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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Drama, Two Jews On Film, John C Reilly, Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, Mother And Son, Bad Seed, Lynne Ramsey, High School Masacure, We Need To Talk About Kevin Movie Review


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