As I watched The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I was taken by the performance of Ezra Miller, the guy who played Patrick, one of the main characters in the film. So taken was I that I wanted to know what else he’d been in. I did my research and it brought me to We Need to Talk About Kevin. This movie is a horror/thriller kind of movie, with Ezra Miller playing the title role. Tilda Swinton plays Kevin’s mother, Eva Katchadourian. She struggles throughout the movie to deal with not only how Kevin acts throughout his childhood, but also the aftermath of something terrible that Kevin has done in his teen years. John C. Reilly is Eva’s husband Franklin, who is a successful photographer whose assignments take him away from home a lot. This is a different role for Reilly, as I usually see him in comedies rather than dramas.
The movie is told in a series of flashbacks from Eva’s point of view. It starts with her participating in a La Tomatina, a big tomato fight that is part of an annual festival in the town of Buñol, Spain. I thought it was an odd way to begin a movie, but it establishes Eva as a writer for a travel magazine. After the tomato fight fades, the film cuts to a high school, where several people are being carried out of the local high school on stretchers. Something terrible has happened there, but we don’t really know what it is. Once the tragedy has been established, we see Eva is living alone in a rundown shack. Her nominally white shack has been covered with red paint, as has her car. Her neighbors know who she is, and they show their displeasure with vandalism. She wakes up with plates and wine bottles and various pills scattered all over the place. She awakens, gets herself together and goes to a strip mall to interview for a secretary position at a travel agency. The travel agency is close to the prison that houses her son, Kevin.
The first time we see Eva visiting her son is brief. She’s sitting at a table waiting for him. Then a guard escorts Kevin into the room. He sits down opposite his mother and says nothing. What we do see is him taking bits and pieces of fingernails out of his mouth and setting them on the table. Okay…Kevin is difficult – he always has been. Despite all of her best efforts and intentions, Eva does not have seem to have the knack for motherhood. As a baby, Kevin cries incessantly. One time we see his crying was so bad, and Eva was so desperate to not hear her son cry anymore, that she takes Kevin out in a stroller and stands next to a construction worker who is using a jackhammer. She would rather hear the sound of the jackhammer without her using any hearing protection rather than to hear Kevin crying. Finally, Eva gets Kevin to quit crying and gets him to sleep. She’s resting on the sofa when Franklin walks in. As he is a new father, Franklin wants to interact with his new son. But Eva pleads with him to leave Kevin alone because of the difficulty she had in getting him to sleep. Eva is exhausted and her nerves are frayed, but Franklin doesn’t have a clue. So he picks up Kevin and starts talking to him, and pretty much tells Eva that she’s going about getting Kevin to sleep in the wrong way. The weird thing is, when Franklin picks up the infant Kevin, he doesn’t cry – not a peep. This adds to Eva’s frustration.
Besides having her house and car vandalized, Eva endures other indignities. In one scene, she’s at the store to buy groceries. After she picked up a carton of eggs and put it in her basket, she spied a woman whose face look familiar. The woman was one of the concerned parents the night the tragedy happened. She ducked out of sight so the other woman wouldn’t see her. But when she went to pay for her groceries, the cashier opens the egg carton and sees all of the eggs are broken. Eva insists on paying for them any, just so she can get the hell out of the store. In another scene we see Eva on her lunch break. As she’s on her way to lunch she crosses paths with two other women. One of them asks her how her day is going, and before Eva answers she slaps her, wishing that she would go to hell. Such is life as a parent of a kid who committed a heinous crime. Meanwhile, in other flashbacks…
As a toddler, Kevin wouldn’t speak. Eva took him to the doctor to see if anything was wrong with him. Why doesn’t he talk – is his hearing bad? The doctor confounds Eva when he tells her that he doesn’t see anything wrong with Kevin. At home Kevin doesn’t show an interest in anything. She sits on the floor with him and rolls a ball to him, hoping that he’d roll the ball back to her. But instead of rolling the ball back to her, Kevin just looks at Eva. It’s the kind of look that says “fuck you, I’ll slit your throat when you’re asleep.” Kevin also resists toilet training. This goes on not for months, but for years. So, even after his toddler years, Kevin is still in diapers. In another flashback, we see Eva and Kevin at the prison. The camera focuses on his arm, where he’s running his finger over a scar. As he does so we finally get to hear him speak. He asks Eva if she remembers how he got that scar. He opines that the reason he got the scar was the “first honest thing” she’d ever done to him. So how did he get the scar? Back when he was a kid [not a toddler] in diapers, there was one day Kevin was being especially difficult. After she changed his diapers [he’s so big he needs more than one], he deliberately takes a crap immediately just to piss her off. It worked because in a fit of rage she picked him up and threw him across the room into a wall, breaking his left arm. They return home, and when clueless Franklin asks how he got a cast on his arm, Kevin lied about it. So now he’s got that hanging over Eva’s head – “if you don’t do what I want I’ll tell Daddy how my arm got broken” – that sort of subtle blackmail kind of thing.
As time rolls on, Kevin doesn’t get any nicer. He’s an evil kid. One day Eva was decorating “her” room with a bunch of maps. That’s what she likes, especially since she writes for a travel magazine. Kevin doesn’t like the look and says so. Then Eva made a mistake. She left Kevin alone in “her” room. When she came back, she found that he had taken a super soaker squirt gun, filled it with paint, and used it all over her maps. With all of these things happening between Eva and Kevin and all of the evil things that Kevin does, Eva is very concerned about Kevin’s behavior. She tries to talk about it with clueless Franklin, but he doesn’t want to hear it. They never really have that “talk about Kevin.” Then there’s a surprise – Kevin shows an interest in something. One time when he’s confined to bed with a fever, Eva reads him a book about Robin Hood. He can’t get enough of it. When clueless Franklin interrupted Eva’s reading of the story, Kevin told him to leave. It’s the first real time where Eva and Kevin bonded over something. Afterwards, clueless Franklin buys Kevin a bow and arrow set and teaches him archery. Kevin practices his archery a lot and becomes an excellent marksman. Eventually, as he gets older Kevin graduates from the rubber toy bow and arrow to the real thing. Hmmm…an antisocial kid who is sociopathic with a weapon – not a good combination…
Frustrated Eva and clueless Franklin have another child, Celia. Unlike Kevin, she’s a happy kid who is fun to be around. But Celia’s presence only adds to the problem. Kevin doesn’t like her and is jealous of her. Years later, Celia’s pet guinea pig disappears. Then, while Kevin was supposed to be watching her, Celia loses an eye. She had an “accident” with some cleaning fluid which blinded her eye. Eva suspected Kevin was involved with both incidents, but clueless Franklin dismisses these incidents as accidents for which Kevin is blameless. As a teenager, Kevin keeps to himself and his laptop computer. One day Eva decided to investigate one of the discs from Kevin’s room. But when she puts the disc in her own laptop, a virus launches which ruins her computer. Kevin knew she was going to do what she did, and after he came home from school he taunted Eva by asking if her computer was completely trashed. Kevin is a demon seed. He knows every which way he can hurt his mother. He puts on an act of being the doting son where his clueless father is concerned
One night Kevin received a package. The package contained bicycle locks. Clueless Franklin asks about the locks. Kevin tells his dad that he got them cheap on the internet, and that he’s going to see them at school. But then we find out what the bike locks were really for. Eva is told by one of her co-workers that something terribly wrong has happened at Kevin’s school. Like any parent would do, she raced to the school to find out if her son was ok. When she arrives, she sees many people covered in blood, some of them dead, some of them still alive, but all of them with arrows stuck in them. Kevin had taken all the bike locks and locked a lot of people inside the school gymnasium. He also had his archery gear with him, which he used to try to kill as many people as he could. When he runs out of arrows, he gives himself up to the police after they cut off one of the locks. But the tragedy isn’t over for Eva. After Kevin’s arrest, she arrives home to an empty house. She calls for her husband and her daughter, but nobody answers. The back door is open, and all one can hear is the sprinklers. She goes to the backyard to see that clueless Franklin and innocent Celia were also perforated by Kevin’s arrows. He did it before he committed his crimes at school.
The last scene shows Eva visiting her son. This time, it’s the last time she’ll see him in juvenile detention because he’s about to turn 18 and go spend some time in real prison. She asks him “why did you do it?” For once he didn’t have a snappy or snarky comeback. He just looks at her and says something to the effect of “I used to know but I don’t anymore.” Before he gets taken away to prison, Eva gives Kevin a hug – the first and last time we see such a thing in this movie.
So was Kevin the sociopath the product of a “bad mother?” Eva has been tormented by all of these flashbacks, as if each and every one of them is a part of a cause that made Kevin act the way he did. She definitely feels all-consuming guilt, especially when her neighbors treat her as if she had committed the crime instead of her son. Or was Kevin really a demon spawn from the beginning, as suggested by his incessant crying and refusal to be potty trained? I don’t know – the movie keeps you wondering about that very thing.
As mentioned earlier, this is the second movie in which I’ve seen Ezra Miller act. Every scene he was in for The Perks of Being a Wallflower he stole, and he gives a chilling and mesmerizing performance as Kevin. Tilda Swinton is amazing as the worn-down, scared shitless mom who is coming apart at the seams. John C. Reilly is a perfect fit for a clueless dad.