Mommy’s little monster

I always wanted kids someday. My wife and I never idealized the white picket fence family dream of the ‘50s, but we thought it might be nice to maybe start a family after we finished with school, got settled into careers and bought a house. We Need to Talk About Kevin killed that dream. Never before had I encountered something that would make me want to put an end to my family’s male line.

Tilda Swinton plays Eva Khatchadourian, a former travel writer who lives a lonely life in a shabby and often-vandalized house while working in a strip mall travel agency. Her present life is a combination of despair and depression, driving her to constantly live in the past.

Community members ostracize her, shooting daggers of distrust and hatred whenever she passes. In one scene, a woman crosses the street just to slap her across the face. In another, two Jehovah’s Witnesses knock on her door, asking if she knows what will happen to her in the afterlife. “Oh yes, I do as a matter of fact. I’m going straight to hell. Eternal damnation, the whole bit,” is her cheerful yet authentic response.

Why? Eva is a mother struggling to live with the atrocities committed by her son Kevin (Ezra Miller).

Told out of chronological order, the film follows the relationship of the mother and son, from birth to his 18th birthday. We see Eva after the birth, struggling to deal with Kevin.

In the arms of his bumbling and oblivious father Franklin, (John C. Reilly), the boy is calm and lovable. With mom, his cries are incessant. The noise becomes too much for Eva to handle, so much so she takes to pushing the stroller past a jackhammer to drown out the wails.

During infancy he is irritating and patience-testing. During his toddler years, Kevin is conniving and cruel. At one time, Kevin makes his mother so angry that she shoves the child, breaking his arm in the process.

One can’t help but think of what might be running through Eva’s head: What if I don’t love my child? What if my child is a monster?

As a teenager, Kevin is attractive, charming and extremely talented with a bow and arrow. He’s had some problems in the past, but everyone seems to adore him except for Eva. When Kevin looks at his mother, one can’t help but see flames of malice and evil flicker behind his eyes. Eva and the audience are the only ones who can sense it, but something vile seems to be lurking beneath the surface, and we can only wait uneasily until it emerges.

Throughout the film, we get flashes of a scene of Eva driving towards her son’s high school, surrounded by police cars with sirens flashing. When we finally get to the school, it’s worse than we imagined.

One may think this film is a question of nurture versus nature, but director Lynne Ramsay doesn’t seem to be concerned with answering this. It’s easy to assume that Eva must have had some hand in shaping him into the monster he becomes, but placing blame and responsibility isn’t that easy. Who can say for certain what makes something evil? If Eva can’t answer that question, I don’t think we’ll be able to.

All I know is, I’m still doubting having children.