This week’s movie shows how complicated the horror genre can be. At its heart, good horror is about people in extraordinary circumstances. This movie isn’t explicitly gory or violent but I decided to write about it based on the reaction it provoked not just in me but in the people I asked about it. I’m talking about We Need to Talk About Kevin.
Isn’t that a great poster? I love the saturated colors. The movie’s palette is mostly muted but there are these scenes that burst with color.
The movie stars the incredible Tilda Swinton as Eva Khatchadourian.
Her story is nonlinear. You see flashbacks to her glamorous life as a young travel writer and her relationship with her lover, Franklin Plaskett (John C. Reilly). The main focus of the story are the repercussions of what happens after their son, Kevin (Jasper Newell as Kevin 6-8 years old, Ezra Miller as teenage Kevin) commits a school shooting.
Eva’s relationship with Kevin is troubled from the beginning. She’s shown to be ambivalent towards motherhood. The baby Kevin cries incessantly when he’s around her and, in one scene, she stands with him near a construction worker jack-hammering to drown out his cries. From right after he’s born, you always see this physical space between Eva and Kevin.
You can feel her simmering resentment as Franklin insists they move to the suburbs and they leave New York City. As Kevin grows, her relationship with him becomes more contentious although doctors insist that he’s normal. Kevin also seems perfectly normal with Franklin, although he’s not above manipulating his parents and playing them against each other.
We alternate between seeing Kevin growing up and Eva’s life after the shooting. She works in a crummy travel agency and has a little house near where Kevin is imprisoned.
I really liked this movie but I don’t think I could watch it on a regular basis because, at its heart, it’s about people being shitty to each other. Tilda Swinton does an amazing job playing Eva. She makes Eva, who is a woman who isn’t necessarily likable, compelling. I actually like Eva a lot. I also think she’s a terrible mother. Not a bad person but someone who shouldn’t necessarily be a mother.
There’s this moment when Eva’s giving birth where someone tells her, “Stop resisting,” that I could really relate to. I know they were talking about her physically resisting the birthing process, but you can also see it as society tells an independent woman to abandon her independence and become a mother. I feel this especially poignantly as someone who’s voluntarily child-free but is also at the age where her Facebook feed has turned into Babybook because so many of her friends are reproducing.
Interestingly, Eva gets along well with her second child, Celia (Ashley Gerasimovich). This makes me question if Eva can be trusted as a narrator. Her interactions with Celia are all shown to be normal while her interactions with Kevin are so fraught. Are her memories accurate? Is she remembering Celia more kindly because Celia is more sympathetic and is such a target of Kevin’s violence?
I don’t think we can trust Eva’s memories but that doesn’t make her story less compelling. What definitely helps are the performances of Jasper Newell and Ezra Miller. The audience sees Young Kevin in diapers at six-years-old and knows that something isn’t right and wonders why his family can’t see it. Eva suspects that something is wrong with Kevin but Franklin has a supreme set of blinders about his son. Ezra Miller plays Teenage Kevin with sinister smirks and biting sarcasm.
What began as childhood battles with his mother has turned into a supreme battle of the wills. Eva catches Kevin masturbating and he just glares at her but doesn’t stop. She invites him out for dinner and she catches Kevin eating the hugest turkey leg ever just before they go out.
In the end, I don’t think Kevin is a bad child. People know when they’re resented and is there any other way he can react to this resentment? By the end of the movie, Eva and Franklin are on the verge of divorcing. Franklin tells Kevin that he might misinterpret things heard out of context, to which Kevin replies “I am the context.”
Interestingly, Eva and Kevin are both very similar, which might explain why they don’t get along. They’re both harsh. At one point, while playing mini-golf with Kevin, Eva goes on this (hilarious but mean) rant about fat people, about how she always sees them eating bad food and she doesn’t want to hear about how they have a slow metabolism. Kevin looks at her and says, “You know, you can be kind of harsh sometimes.” She responds, “You’re one to talk.” Plus, Eva can be as manipulative as Kevin. She doesn’t even tell Franklin that she’s pregnant with Celia until she’s showing enough for Kevin to notice.
What I especially like about the movie is that it could have become an issues movie but it avoided that. The focus remained on Eva and Kevin. The victims are barely seen in the movie. Also, Kevin’s choice of weapon–a bow and arrow–is rare enough to be interesting while avoiding the whole NRA debate that my country is currently entangled in. Plus, you know I love the use of a bow and arrows since it echoes one of my favorite killer kid movies, Bloody Birthday.
In the end, you feel sorry for Kevin. His head is shaved and he’s wearing a different uniform because he’s going to be transferred to an adult prison. There’s a vulnerability in his face when he looks at Eva and says he doesn’t even remember why he committed the shooting. It’s not bullying or video games, in the end he’s just a person who did a really shitty thing.
Before I finish this entry, I’d like to point out the badge on the right side of my blog. I finally gathered my courage and joined the Horror Blogger Alliance. I recommend you check out their blog listing, some of the pages look mighty interesting.