We Need to Talk about Kevin

school shooting -
Grief -
The red filters through in We Need to Talk about Kevin
Lynne Ramsay
Lynne Ramsay,
Rory Stewart Kinnear
Tilda Swinton,
John C. Reilly,
Ezra Miller
Run time
112 minutes
Oscilloscope Laboratories
Distribution Date
Aug 21, 2011
Winner Best Actress in a Motion Picture - Golden Globes (2012)

“Rot in hell!”

We hear it yelled at Eva Khatchadourian, played by Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton, Julia), two different times in We Need to Talk about Kevin.

The movie opens with shots of a delirious Eva, draped in red light. Someone has splashed red paint all over her house, and she has just woken up to the light coming in through her now red-tinted windows.

Red light is a constant companion throughout the film. We often see it coloring Eva’s face. We also see plenty of examples of this kind of villainy against her. Someone splashed red paint over her house because she is the mother of a school shooter, and that makes her some kind of witch.

Later, a man tries to get Eva to dance at an office party, and when she politely refuses, he tells her she’s a “stuck up bitch” and will never get anyone to be with her after what her son did.

Still later, two religious men come to her door and ask her where she thinks she will go when she dies. “Oh, I’m going to hell,” she says quite curtly, before shutting the door.

Rot in hell? She is in hell.

This is not an easy movie to watch. It’s not violent, or gratuitous, as it could have been, but it is emotionally quite intense. I got used to seeing Eva’s jaw dropped in dumbfounded astonishment, as she takes the hits that are thrown at her, while not being able to believe that what is happening to her is really happening.

We Need to Talk about Kevin unfolds non-linearly. We bounce back and forth from scenes of Eva and her husband Franklin, played by John C. Reilly (Boogie Nights, Magnolia), before she had her son Kevin, played by Ezra Miller (Perks of Being a WallflowerFantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), to scenes of Kevin’s development from a baby to a teenager, to scenes of Eva after the massacre. The movie is mysterious at first, and perhaps even hard to follow, but develops patiently into a full portrait of Eva’s heartbreaking situation.

School shootings always bring up a lot of questions. How could someone do such a thing? How could someone so young do such a thing? Why? What made him do it? Could we have prevented it somehow?

Imagine having to ask these questions concerning your own son. Eva has to look her own son in the face and ask him why he killed so many people. And while the film unfolds, and we see her and her son’s development, we look for answers. Where does he go wrong? Is he evil? If so, was he born evil, or did he become so at some point? And why? 

The characters who tell Eva to rot in hell had decided on sure answers to these questions: It’s the parents’ fault. Kevin did evil because of some evil he was subjected to by his parents. These characters comfort themselves by constructing an orderly, black-and-white interpretation of reality: If the child does wrong, blame the parents. It’s that simple.

Because if it’s not that simple, then we have to ask some dark questions and sit with some disturbing realities, without knowing for certain that what we come up with will adhere to a clear-cut order.

Watching We Need to Talk about Kevin confronted me with these dark questions and disturbing realities. It didn’t answer them for me, but I’m glad it confronted me with them the way it did, because I think it’s better to wrestle with questions that make me uncomfortable than it is to have simple interpretations for complex issues – especially if those interpretations make me less compassionate and more inhumane toward sufferers like Eva.

About the Contributor

Jack Holloway is a writer and musician living in Brooklyn, New York. While he spends most of his time engaging heady texts, he likes to read across genres, and he is a movie-lover, with a particular affinity for old, indie, and foreign films. Beyond movies and books, you could talk to Jack about the year’s best music, different kinds of beer, or even baking!