We Need To Talk About Kevin

Kim Sigouin

A film that deals with a mother’s attempt to understand her son’s decision to murder fellow students and teachers at his high school should be disturbing. However, I saw the film about a week ago, and I am still haunted by some of the scenes. What we get is a state of mind, jumping from scenes of bliss from an earlier life, to scenes of frustration, to utter shock. This technique of disrupting any sort of chronology further adds to a sense of discomfort in a tale in which a mother tries to understand whether her son is innately evil, or whether her cold, distant mothering was the cause of his violent outbursts. We get snippets of her life before Kevin along side scenes of Kevin at different stages in his life, starting as an infant who seemingly rejects his mother once out of the womb, to a toddler who mimics her (refusing to talk and intentionally soiling his diapers which he wears until a very late stage in his development). His dark hair and dark eyes and deliberate attempts to anger his mother make him seem like a child spawned from some demon. As an adolescent, his dark eyes, oddly angled smirk, and clothes too small for his body create a look of pure evil. His awkward stance and uncaring attitude seems appropriate for an adolescent; however, his unabashed masturbation in front of his mother, his comfortable stance and accurate aim with a bow and arrow, and the eating of lychees during a conversation about his younger sister having to get a glass eye (the loss of the eye resulting from a cleaning substance that we assume Kevin has poured into her eye) intimate that there is more to this character than just a diffuclt time adjusting to a pubescent stage in his life.

The colour red figures prominently in the film and highlights some of the most disturbing scenes. From the clumps of jelly dripping from two slices of white bread, to traffic lights, to blood leaking from the garbage disposal as Eva realises that her son has stuffed Celia’s hamster in the drain, the effect is haunting. The film opens with Eva in a sea of people participating in an annual tomato fight. This very claustrophobic scene reveals Eva in a pose resembling the crucified Christ. She is in a state of ecstasy as fellow participants raise her above the crowds and then lower her in a sea of crushed tomatoes, the red juices creating a thick river of blood beneath her. In this introductory scene, we see a very rare image of Eva experiencing a sense of bliss. This smirk that spreads over her face is later replaced with a stern, frustrated, even blank look as she regrets her settling down in a large house, married, and with child. The scene is uncomfortable, not only due to the fact that we see bodies squirming in this blood-like lake of red, but because the screams of Kevin’s victims play over the image that we see before us.  

The contrast of red and white is later emphasized in what is the most poignant scene of the film. Eva rushes to her son’s high school thinking her son is in danger, arriving in time only to witness her son’s arrest. Obstructing any sort of escape from the building through the use of bicycle locks, Kevin equips himself with bow and arrow, bowing in front of an imaginary audience and prepares to aim at any moving thing that rushes in front of him. In the mist of panic, Eva observes her son willfully accept the circumstances of the arrest as he smirks from the back seat of a cop car. She returns home to a quieter than normal atmosphere, breaking the silence as she calls for her husband and her daughter. She creeps towards a white curtain that blows softly in the wind through an open window. The rhythm of the scene is very skillfully maintained: the slow pace of the movement of the curtains coupled with Eva’s slow march to the balcony and the intrusive sound of the sprinklers outside does not adequately prepare the audience for the next image: Husband and daughter lay sprawled in the lawn, arrows extending from their motionless bodies. We return again to the curtain gently moving in the breeze, and Eva re-enters the scene. The white of the curtains and the white of her clothes are stained with blood. The slow-pace of the scene is maintained up until she collapses in her bed with nothing more than a blank stare. 

I cannot imagine someone better suited for the role: Tilde Swinton captures this deteriorating mind that we are able to glimpse into. She is suffering from shock and still she is able to carefully balance between complete and utter despair and humour. Ezra Miller captures the evil that is Kevin, his speech, his stares, and his stance emitting the disinterest that sums up the life of a psychopath. Director Lynne Ramsay creates this masterpiece of a deteriorating mind trying to come to terms with a psychopathic son. I highly (highly!) recommend the film.