Two months and one week ago, I started on this journey that we call Embracing the Melodrama, Part II. At the time, I announced that I would be reviewing 126 film melodramas and that I would get it all done in 3 weeks. Well, I was 6 weeks off as far as the timing was concerned but I am going to reach the 126 mark.
(And then I’m going to pass out and sleep for a year…)
We started this series by taking a look at the 1927 silent classic Sunrise and now, 119 reviews later, we have reached the disturbing 2011 film, We Need To Talk About Kevin.
We Need To Talk About Kevin tells the story of Eva (Tilda Swinton). Eva was once a very successful travel writer, who explored the world and lived a life of total independence and sophistication. Now, however, she has a demeaning job at a travel agency. She lives in a dilapidated house that is the frequent target of vandals. Everyone in town views her as a pariah, either deliberately avoiding her or greeting her with open hostility.
You see, Eva is the mother of a teenager named Kevin (Ezra Miller) who is currently in prison. One day, Kevin locked all of his high school classmates in the gym and, using a bow and arrow set that was given to him by his father, Franklin (John C. Reilly), Kevin proceeded to kill or maim them all, one-by-one. When Kevin finally surrendered to police, he looked over at his mother and he smirked.
We Need To Talk About Kevin unfolds in flashback as Eva looks back on her former life and tries to understand how her son could do something so evil. From the time that Kevin was a baby, Eva suspected that there was something wrong with her son and found it impossible to bond with him. While Franklin spoiled him and refused to accept that there was ever anything wrong, Eva went the opposite direction. When Eva became more and more convinced that Kevin was evil, Franklin refused to listen to her.
And, make no mistake about it, Kevin is evil. For the majority of the film, he is one of the most evil characters that you’ve ever seen. (It’s even suggested — though thankfully never shown — that he may have deliberately blinded his little sister.) We, like Eva, wonder if Kevin was born evil or if he became evil as the result of the way he was raised but there’s no doubt that he’s evil.
And then, one day, Eva goes to visit her son in prison and we see a different Kevin. Kevin is about to turn 18, which means that he’ll be transferred to an adult prison. Kevin admits that he’s scared. In this scene, the cocky and hateful Kevin is one. This new Kevin has shaved off his previously unruly mop of hair. His face is bruised and he has a cut above his eye, suggesting that, within the walls of the justice system, he’s no longer the attacker but instead the one being attacked. He no longer smirks or glares at his mother. Instead, he looks lost and vulnerable.
And, at first, I actually felt sorry for Kevin when I saw that scene. I guess it was maybe my own maternal instinct coming out or maybe my own tendency to feel compassion for those who have no freedom. But, at that moment, I felt as if maybe Kevin finally understood that what he did was wrong. Just like Tilda Swinton’s Eve, I suddenly felt compassion for this hateful creature…
Until, of course, it occurred to me that the only time that Kevin showed any fear or regret was when it came to his own situation. As scared as Kevin is, Kevin never expresses any regret over what he did. Instead, he’s scared for himself and upset that he no longer has control of his situation. Though the film never states it, that’s classic sociopath behavior. (One is reminded of the BTK Killer, who unemotionally talked about those he killed but then cried when talked about having to spend the rest of his life in prison.)
At that point, I realized that Kevin hadn’t changed at all. Much like Eve, I wanted to believe that Kevin had changed because that, at least, would give the story some sort of closure. But, unfortunately, the Kevins of the world can never change. We may not know how someone like Kevin is created, whether he’s born evil or becomes evil due to circumstances. But we do know that evil can never change. That’s the burden that both Eve and the audience must carry.
We Need To Talk About Kevin is a lot like Million Dollar Baby. It’s well-directed and fiercely well-acted but, at the same time, it’s so sad and disturbing that I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to watch it again. There are a few moments of very dark humor, mostly connected to just how oblivious everyone, with the exception of Eve, is to Kevin’s evil. But make no mistake, this is a seriously dark film.
(For those keeping track, that’s 120 reviews down and 6 to go.)