Implausible Psycho: “We Need to Talk About Kevin”


British director Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel, We Need To Talk About Kevin, deals with a high-school massacre, raising uncomfortable questions about family and adolescence, as MARK FISHER discusses in his review. (The film is now available on DVD from Oscilloscope Pictures.)

“We couldn’t use fucking Coke, we couldn’t use Campbell’s Soup cans.” So said Lynne Ramsay of her remarkable adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel We Need To Talk About Kevin. As a result of this excision of brand names which didn’t wish to be associated with its controversial subject matter, the film is marked by a kind of negative product placement. Accordingly, it’s set in a kind of alternative America, an America, you might say, that is the exact inverse of the country invoked by the magical rituals of advertising. Here, the family is not the gently glowing space where parents find the meaning in their lives, mothers do not always bond with their children, but teenagers—they kill other teenagers.

We Need to Talk About Kevin. Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories.

Shriver famously had difficulties getting the novel published because prospective publishers worried about the novel’s lead character, Eva, being “unsympathetic.” Being an “unsympathetic character” in effect seems to mean not being the sort of woman who looks as if she belongs in the magical kingdom of advertising. In both the novel and the film, Eva is more than capable of eliciting readers’ and the viewers’ sympathy. What provokes discomfort is, rather, her very capacity to do so. Eva is “unsympathetic,” not because we cannot relate to her, but because she expresses “unacceptable” attitudes towards motherhood. “Now that children don’t till your fields or take you in when you’re incontinent,” Shriver has her write in the novel, “there is no sensible reason to have them, and it’s amazing that with the advent of effective contraception anyone chooses to reproduce at all.” Worse even than expressing open hostility toward being a mother, Eva feels ambivalence. Eva’s supposed “coldness” amounts to a deficit in the over-performance of feeling and attachment demanded by the currently dominant emotional regime.

We Need To Talk About Kevin is a mother’s horror story, or a horror story about motherhood. One could say it is every mother’s worst fear (or one of them, a parent’s life being hardly lacking in worst fears); or, conversely, that it is the wish-fulfilment fantasy for those who choose not to have children (why shouldn’t this happen to any parent?). In the novel, Eva refers to both Alien and Rosemary’s Baby, but these cinematic precursors are about the horrors of pregnancy; in We Need To Talk About Kevin, the real horror only ensues after a child’s birth.

We Need To Talk About Kevin is about the aftermath of a Columbine-style shooting at a school in a small American town. It focuses on, and is entirely focused through, Eva (Tilda Swinton), the killer’s mother, and her attempts to come to terms with what her son, Kevin, has done. Eva is persecuted—her property is covered in red paint, she is struck in the street—as if she, rather than her son, was really responsible for the atrocity. Eva herself somewhat shares this judgement, not least because Kevin’s violence does not entirely come as a shock to her. She has long suspected him to be either psychopathic or evil.

Perhaps the principal difference between film and novel consists in the shift from the first-person perspective of the book, in which Eva tells her story in the form of letters to her husband. The epistolary structure of the novel gives us Eva (and all her evasions and self-deceptions) from inside, whereas the film’s eschewal of voiceover means that much of what we learn about Eva we glean from studying her facial expressions and her body postures. In a film that is many ways about the failures and inadequacies of verbal communication, Swinton’s rightly praised performance consists in large part in the way that she deploys the angularity of her face and body to convey misgivings and trauma that are never spoken.


An obvious comparison is Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, another film about a Columbine-style massacre, but Ramsay’s film is very different. Elephant ends with the atrocity, with Van Sant’s camera following the two killers with the same cool implacability with which it had earlier tracked their victims’ uneventful walks through the school corridors. Kevin’s killings, meanwhile, are the absent, invisible center of Ramsay’s film. By contrast with Elephant’s oddly diffident lyricism, We Need To Talk About Kevin’s expressionistic naturalism has a roiling, post-traumatic nonlinearity. It discloses its narrative fitfully, in snatches and gobbets that make sense only gradually, like the confused speech of a concussion victim. The film cuts with all the manic desperation of an insomniac brain seeking to take refuge from a horror that has contaminated everything. For Eva, there is no escape in the past; every memory becomes part of a cryptic causal sequence that always culminates in the killings. What was the root of the violence? And what role, if any, did she play in bringing it about?

Eva’s case seems to be that Kevin was born a psychopath—a psychopath whose whole life is geared toward tormenting her. Kevin’s cruelties appear to be designed with his mother as the audience. Shriver makes much of the parallels between Eva and Kevin, and some of the most memorable shots in the film position mother and son as doubles of one another. Kevin derives extra enjoyment from the performance of doting son that he artfully puts on for the benefit of his annoyingly credulous father (John C. Reilly). Ultimately, however, in the film as in the novel, it is Kevin that is the weakest element. In the film, this isn’t because of poor performances—all of the actors who play Kevin are excellent, with Miller, who plays the teenage Kevin, particularly worthy of commendation. The problem is that the character of Kevin neither comes off as naturalistically plausible nor as mythically compelling: instead, he is a sour melodrama turn, a sullen pantomime villain, a demon from the wrong kind of horror film. The film, like the book, equivocates between explaining Kevin’s actions and holding that their evil consists precisely in their resistance to explanation. Much like the Joker in The Dark Knight, Kevin rejects and ridicules any explanation for his actions, including one he offers himself. He later laughs at the explanation he himself proffers in a TV interview—that he wanted to “pass onto the other side of the screen, become what everyone else was watching”—dismissing it as facile. “The secret is that there is no secret,” Shriver writes, and Kevin wants to be a true rebel without a cause, his violence an inexplicable passage a l’acte, whose radical freedom consists in the fact that it is both uncaused and without a reason. In refusing to offer easy explanations, both the film and the novel collude with Kevin’s ambition—but neither succeed in making him into a convincing enigma.


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  3. The Mailman says

    I recently wandered into a dinner conversation with friends about the movie I had seen the film a year ago and really couldn’t remember enough of the nuances to support my theory that Kevin was Eva’s alter ego. Hence the androgyny , the removal of egg shells at the prison(probation officer?court ordered shrink? ) visit, the house she wanted vs the one her husband gave, blaming a dead child for a miserable life etc I need to view again because I was struck not so much by the dismissal of my view but by the adamancy and stridency of same. Is anyone else out there who espouses my opinion? In the meantime I’ll settle in for a rerun.

  4. bálint says

    Mailman! I have just thought about the same thing. I am a bit disappointed though that nowhere on the internet was there an explanation similar to yours.

  5. Abigail says

    I read the book prior to watching the film and I have come up with many conclusions about the book/movie. There is one however that I have long pondered. I believe that Kevin really loved his mother truly. His wickedness towards her was his way of denying himself rejection by her. He became aware at a very young age that she did not have any kind of connection with him and wanted to ensure that she would never know that he loved/needed her. In his few moments of weakness this is very evident. For example in the film when he is sick. He did not have the energy to keep up the rouse, thus him letting his guard down and finally letting her get close to him. He needed to find a way that the two of them would be the only person each other had. And that is evident at both the end of the film and the book. She finally feels love toward him and he needs her again. Does this explanation appeal to anyone else?

  6. Peach says

    I don’t even remember when I stumbled upon this film. It’s been a while. But, since just telling some people about it today, I thought to look up reviews on the movie and found this page.

    The SOLE purpose of my commenting is to say that, in all my years of reading film reviews, I have NEVER come across one like this. What Mr. Fisher has done is write the type of review that I’ve longed for. FINALLY. THIS is what a film review SHOULD BE.

    I’ve come to largely disregard most “top film critics” opinions as have many I know. Why? Because they aren’t really reviewing a film. They don’t inform, they snark. And their ultimate goal in writing a review is to display themselves as they hyper-intelligent, hyper-well read, hyper-hip snobs who point out that most films fall beneath their high-brow stratosphere.

    “A worn-out Hollywood cliche” “A story line we’ve seen many times before”…how many times have I seen those lines? So I guess the Greeks were wrong in doing the themes of tragedy and comedy over and over? What reviewers, when too full of themselves, forget is that for the most part, people go to see a film to be ENTERTAINED. Was “When Harry Met Sally” ground breaking? No. Were the Harry Potter movies considered a cinema masterpiece? No. Did reviewers trash them? Yup. But the masses have spoken.

    If we were rid of the self-serving egotistical “top” reviewers who’s only claim to fame is who well they can turn a phrase trashing a film and replaced them with more Mark Fishers, maybe we could actually put faith in a film review and, more importantly, learn something valuable from it.

  7. Angela says

    Having recently read ‘The Boy Who was Raised as a Dog’ and much more on child development and disorders I think it is important to remember that this is a work of fiction. Lots of babies refuse to feed. I’d love to read the sequel … something like “Talking to Kevin” to discover that Kevin had been systematically abused, either by his mother or father, from birth or that he suffers from some severe abnormal brain activity (mental illness or injury) … I refuse to believe the old-school, religion based idea that some people are just ‘born evil’. Shriver’s ‘out of America’ bitterness is clear – much like a child growing up and finding that her parents are just ordinary people just like everyone else.

  8. Emma says

    I really liked Abigal’s theory for Kevin’s behaviour. That explanation made me feel satisfied with the ending of the book, which, otherwise made no sense at all. Why would a sociopath suddenly change and become emotional towards his mother (I never understood that in the book until Abigal’s explanation). Thanks

  9. Sarah says

    @ Angela I agree with you completely when discussing real life situations. However, I think this story is really about the assertion that western society still sees motherhood as the ultimate attainment for a woman. Eva is a successful person on many levels, but it is her inability to bond with her son in a conventional way that will define her. Being perceived as a failure as a mother is seen as the ultimate disgrace.

  10. Jennifer says

    I haven’t read the book but the movie was ultimately unfulfilling. His behaviour defies explanation. Abigail’s explanation doesn’t sit quite right with me, I took his “weakness” when sick as another manipulation of her emotions. Sarah’s folds up some ties a bit better. I really don’t understand why he was so vindictive. Perhaps the book gives more insight into their relationship. He just seemed like a horrible pyschopathic child. Except not entirely psychopathic because he appeared to delight in torturing his mother, rather than torturing all things.

  11. As everything is but illusion, let me comment on what my “observer” saw: Kevin needed his mother. Eva was ambivalent about motherhood and she felt guilty about it. Kevin felt unloved because she couldn’t give to him a clear bond-feeling. Implicitly she gave him the message: -you annoy me, you don’t exist the way I would like you to exist. Kevin, a very intelligent boy, was also from birth, neurologically disturbed. The condition was quite difficult for an ambivalent mother, who did not receive guidance from competent professionals, and whom did not know her soon was neurologically ill. Nobody knew.
    Kevin ensured not to let her know that he loved/needed her. Instead, to PROVE HER HIS EXISTENCE, he adopted different kind of strategies: observation, manipulation, control, attack, nastiness… The situation went out of her hands by not announcing clearly what was happening. She never confronted him, probably because of guilt and self-doubt. At times, when he was ill, he let his guard down and she could get closer to him. By his serial killing, Kevin proved HIS EXISTENCE to the world. At the end of the film, he did not know why he had done what he had done and with his guard down, he could accept the proximity of his mother who never abandoned him, even in the worst circumstances. She could provably pay her guilt by “loving him”, even when he had killed her husband and her daughter.

  12. Chelle says

    Just finished the book, have not seen the film yet but I will. As a mother of two grown children I can empathise with Eva, her emotions about her firstborn seem to me to be quite a natural experience even if you do ” fall in love” with the baby at first sight, a lot of women find the whole thing qute terrifying at first, especially the brest feeding it’s not as natural as everyone makes out and it can be frustrating. I don’t think Kevin was born nasty although after reading the book I said to my husband that maybe there was a slight chemical imbalance in the brain to start with that no doctors would pick up on. I felt sorry for Kevin throughout the book, Eva I felt like shaking and wanted to ask why didn’t she take the child to see a specialist in child behaviour, oh but she broke his arm Mmmmm! The alter ego reply I liked. The dad just came across as an idiot chouvanist.

  13. Judith de Meyer says

    Don’t forget this is a work of fiction. Kevin is a child with the feelings and thoughts of an adult. Only a child influenced by adults is capable of such horrible behaviour (for example kid souldiers).

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  15. Tracy Taub says

    Whether we like it or not, whether or not we are comfortable with the idea, there are people “born that way” when it comes to sociopathy or any of the range of personality disorders. It has to do with genetics, chemistry, nutrition in utero- a whole host of complex interactions that we are only beginning to understand.

    Nuture overlays onto nature; sometimes genetic tendencies can be turned off and on, rerouted. Child abuse and dysfunction inflicted onto a non-psychopathic leaning child will produce unhealthy distortions, sure, but will not in and of itself produce a psychopathic child.

    It’s a difficult reality to accept, that Kevin’s mother might not have been responsible after all, despite her flaws, but there it is. She might have been, but maybe not.

  16. Noralee says

    I disagree with most of these posts. I am currently rereading the book and have seen the film several times. Eva KNEW she was not connecting with her son, but she really tried. The kid was born evil–I am convinced of it. But more to the point, if there is a need to point the finger of blame, I blame the father. He blithely goes about his life relatively undisturbed. He makes it clear from the get-go that he thinks Eva is lying about the incessant crying and the psychopathic behavior displayed by Kevin, even at a very young age. He never tries to see it from her side because the little brat never lets him see the behavior. He coddles Kevin and ignores Eva’s complaints as irrelevant and wrong. HE buys him the first archery set and encourages its use. HE backs Kevin up every time, leaving Eva feeling abandoned. HE refuses to see what Kevin did to his little sister. HE inadvertently brings on the ultimate psychotic act and effectively blows up the whole family. Why do you think Kevin left only Eva alive from the familial ensemble? This book and movie offer many more questions than answers. I have always been at least as concerned for the parents of mass-murder perpetrators as for the families of the victims. This book and movie are very powerful insights into the whole mystery.

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  18. Leah says

    Whether or not Kevin was congenitally predisposed to psychopathy, the harm inflicted on him and everyone around him was largely the fault of his mother. As a primary caregiver, she was cold, narcissistic, and neglectful. In other words, she cooked the ingredients that make a monster. At best, a child raised in such incapable hands would likely be incredibly insecure, needy, probably depressed, maybe suicidal, and desperate for acceptance and love.

    Some people have children and form a family; others relegate children to the margins of their lives, and create the difficult children they feared raising in the first place. I found Eva to be a mother far beyond unsympathetic. The idea that the person responsible for making the monster is worthy of sympathy is repugnant.

    Lastly, I’m gonna say it: Adam Lanza was a monster made deadly by bad parenting and epically tragic maternal misjudgments. If this movie had been made much later, it would look like a thinly veiled biopic.

  19. Angus says

    @Leigh, you express exactly the viewpoint frames the outside world’s reaction to Eva. Which is not a compliment.
    I’ve just finished the book. Powerful and brilliant. Eva is the narrator of the story and it is her truth that Kevin is born evil and there’s no reason to doubt it (although I have some sympathy with Abigail’s interpretation).

  20. Progenitura says

    I’ve just seen the movie, and I find it obvious that is hard to put all the blame on one person. Instead, here’s my view:
    – Kevin clearly has what is called ‘the evil gene’ if you believe it that, or otherwise, he’s simply put: messed up (call it reincarnation, karma, genealogical behavior, parent’s ego etc.)
    – Modern society forbids and doesn’t take kindly blocking the child’s personality by the parents. It’s like a golden rule, especially for rich families. No roadblocks, even if the kid’s behavior is messed up.
    – THE MAIN REASON. Indicated even by the title. “We need to talk about Kevin”. There is no dialog between Eva and Franklin. When it comes about Kevin, the two of them are opposed. She clearly sees the problem in him, but Franklin as a modern father refuses to do anything about it and even more turns him self against her.

    TLDR; Kevin’s thirst for violence, Eva’s weakness, Franklin’s oblivion, Eva and Franklin’s lack of communication, modern practices of educating a child…these are the ingredients which created the monster Kevin became.

  21. joyce says

    Because the book was written in the form of letters from Eva, you have to realize that you are getting a very one-sided perspective. Nevertheless, I was sympathetic to the mother.
    However, there was a glaring error in her back story that caused me to doubt her veracity. She claimed her birthday, August 15th, was a holiday, VJ Day. I come from RI, the only state that celebrates VJ Day & it is. Aug. 14th

  22. Dvora Flieg says

    I watched the movie last night,picked out randomly, and can’t get it out of my head. I tend to agree most with Abigail’s conjecture, that he was always looking for love from his mother. I don’t think that Eva was as cold as seems the general consensus. I think she was too lenient with him. The sad part is that Kevin respected her most after she broke his arm , and even covered up for her, knowing at such a young age that if he told the truth he might lose her. I think what he wanted most was boundaries, and discipline. Not physical discipline, but both parents pandered to Kevin, the father was like milquetoast, and ultimately if Kevin had hated his mother so much, why as others have pointed did he not kill her rather than the father who he was so much more civil to. I don’t think Kevin had any respect for his father, and his little sister was just a nuisance to him , so because he was sociopathic , it was of no consequence to dispose of them. There are no easy answers here, but I don’t believe that there is one simple explanation, and that is what makes us feel so queasy about the film. If Kevin really hated his mother so much, he would have simply offed her first, just as Adam Lanza did with his mother. I agree with Agigail, he wanted his mother’s love, but he needed her to set boundaries. I remember the line he said about teaching a cat how to use a littler box,(although in reality I don’t think that is the way to teach a cat, they know instinctively to use the box) but the point was Kevin said to rub their nose in their own shit. That’s what Kevin wanted his mother to do to him.

  23. Michaela says

    In all honesty, I feel both the book and the movie try to portray Kevin’s absolute loathing for his mother for no other reason than he sees himself in her. The two of them are the same; she describes him as resembling her in many ways which disturbed her. He never disguises himself in front of her because they are one in the same. She sees who he truly is because it is a mirror image of herself.

    From the beginning, Kevin tries to make Eva’s life difficult but he is too intelligent to do this in broad daylight. For example, when he breaks his arm and covers for her, he uses the truth as blackmail against her; pointing at his cast in order to get his way which then prolongs the pain Eva feels. If he were to tell the truth from the get-go, it would have been ripping the band-aid off immediately and thus would not allowed him to milk it as he did.

    The only reason he does not kill Eva in the end, instead of his father and sister, is because he wanted to make her life a living hell. He wanted to take everything she had, everything she loved, and leave her with nothing. Kevin didn’t kill his father and sister because he hated them (though I do believe he did slightly because they were fools who couldn’t see who he was), but because he hated his mother. More than that, he hated himself because he was the embodiment of his mother.

  24. Kevin does everything to place himself as far away from Eva as possible. His acts are his ongoing test for her to prove her love to him. Too simple? What effect does postpartum depression have on a newborn child?

  25. Emily says

    It is quite obvious in the book that Kevin has respect for his mother, and it is reinforced when he does not kill her, I believe that Kevin has a mental illness and Eva’s guilt of thinking she is to blame for his behaviour is why she can never get him the help also it would be going against franklins opinion whom she very much loved, Kevin is trying to get through his feelings to Eva by destroying her, I like the fact that she isn’t this perky bubbly perfect mother and she treats him on his level, I also believe if she truly believed Kevin capable there would be some sort of denial as if taking him somewhere would make the situation real, she keeps all her thoughts and feelings very hidden only mentioning them to Franklin and then although suspicious she doesn’t push, almost like she is too scared to be right about her son. Kevin only tortures Eva because she is the only one he respects, franklin is a waste of time to him and Celia is only seen as a weapon to be used against Eva. Even if Eva is a cold mother she did try, she wasn’t absent she was very involved in his life, because she wasn’t what society believes a mother should be doesn’t mean she was responsible for his behaviour

  26. I can’t imagine an act more cruel than killing Eva’s husband and daughter then leaving her alive to discover it and live with it. Im not sure that the fact Kevin didn’t kill her is testament to his love for her. He inflicted the most supreme pain I could imagine.

  27. Duane says

    Great comment from the Mailman. I am thinking the same thing. Could this be Rosemary’s Baby meets A Beautiful Mind? Is there a Kevin at all? Maybe Eva killed her own family. Maybe this is a modern retelling of Whose Afraid of Virgina Wolfe. If David Lynch directed the film then there would be no doubt….there is no Kevin. There is only Eva. This would certainly explain all the hatred thrown at her. She is the demon who created an imaginary child to cope with the crimes of her own past. The best proof of this is seen at the opening of the film before we as an audience know who Kevin or Eve is. Eva puts her face into a tub of water and she becomes (for a moment) Kevin. It would also explain why Kevin looks only like Eva (he does not have even the smallest hint of his “father” and the daughter has features which resemble no one in the family).

  28. LittlePanda says

    Dont know if what the movie transmitted to me is what the director wanted, or even what the book states. But for me kevin was besides all of the things you have said a little clumsy with his feeling and mainly what he had was something close to a mother complex.For me he was not an enigma and even as a child he could sense the rejection within the mothers actions. It made me want to read the book.

  29. Kate C says

    Watched movie now want to read book. Not sure why I’m so intrigued but maybe it’s normal for humans to be fascinated when something triggers another of our species to act out this way…’why?’, we wonder and, as parents, ‘can we prevent our children from ever becoming such monsters?’
    I agree with Abigail on many levels. I found the film to be inadequate when giving the audience a ‘fuller’ picture of Kevin. He was a rather unexplored person but maybe that was the point – we were to only know Kevin as his mother knew him. We know he displayed certain traits of control & manipulation (his sparse, tidy room, the guinea pig incident, the way he handled his parents and sister) and we get another glimpse into his school life (empty workbooks) but not his social life at school.

  30. Elina says

    Very interesting ideas here… just saw the movie; did not read the book. Actually, all ideas expressed here are not necessarily opposing each other. Eva’s character appears to struggle with he inability to connect with her first-born (she does not seem to have the same problem with her daughter). She is is surprised herself, she feels guilty because, perhaps for the first time in life, she does not know how to handle the situation. She does not give up at trying, but she realizes that her attempts are futile (she really needed to consult about interventions with Kevin).

  31. This has been so far one of the most brilliant independent films i have watched in such a long time and therefore this film deserves more credit than it already has received. With all the reviews I have read, I completely agree on this one. Although it’s hard to pinpoint on who exactly should be blamed, I think the father should have been more open-minded concerning to the behaviors of his son that was already shown throughout his entire childhood. As for Kevin, since the very beginning, you could already have seen that he has the qualities and traits of a pyschopath with his attitude towards his mother. So I’d rate this film a 8/10! Kudos to Tilda Swinton for playing a terribly difficult character to portray.

  32. Glenn says

    Eva bashing makes no sense to me. She did the best she could and she did well, all things considered. This boy was a new mother’s nightmare. Nurture is to blame? I think not! A clear case of a flaw of nature, if there ever was one.

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  34. Katherine says

    As for the mailman and Duane …. The two comments that take this movie to an entirely new level. I’m going to add only what supports the alto ego theory and that Kevin did not exist but was invented to explain Eva to herself – to explain her act of killing her husband and little adorable (perfect) little girl who forgives life for everything unconditionally. Remember the co worker who shows interest in Eva, asks her to dance at the Christmas party and then leans in close to whisper something we think might be off color or flirty but what does he say ? ‘Do you think anyone is ever going to love you now..’ Does he add ‘after what you’ve done.’? Well he might have I’ll have to look at it again. But where the hell did that declarative statement come from? People may blame the parents for what the did or didn’t provide but in this case it’s expressed as what’s she has done. Done. And this supports the mailman and Duane in the suggestion that Kevin did not exist as a physical reality. He was an embodiment of all her fears and what she was without having to face who she is on top of it. The ‘who’ is unbearable to face. Or gradually it may come and that’s the hug she gave herself at the end. Too kooky? Okay. Just a thought. Good movie.

  35. Katherine says

    PS I offer the non existent Kevin theory for another reason. No child is that sophisticated as to provide as much pain and abuse to mother. Not as that toddler stage–that he would refuse to throw a ball back and only to drive mom insane? What kid that age doesn’t throw a ball back when these elements are all brand new in life and there would have to be an irresistible urge almost involuntary reflex — to handle the big ball and throw it into the air? As he grows no kid is as evil as that. She’s created justification for her madness that intimately murders her husband and adoring princess child. As in what mother wouldn’t do absolutely insane with a kid like that as her seed and constant companion when daddy’s at work.

  36. erika says

    “As a primary caregiver, she was cold, narcissistic, and neglectful. In other words, she cooked the ingredients that make a monster”

    are you KIDDING ME? if eva’s parenting lead to kevins psychopathy than God help us, billions on this planet are doomed for evil. I saw no such signs of her coldness, ambivalence. I’m not a mom, so, please don’t rip on me for the lack of experience, but I can imagine that motherhood is not always 100% cuddles and kisses n joy. Raising a human being is difficult, trying at times. When did she ever seriously abuse him (and knocking him back breaking his arm? w/ that kid? I’d be tempted everyday to smack him), lock him in a closet? refuse to talk to him? never provide food, shelter…..Disturbing film, mostly because we can ‘Kevins’ in our own culture. Who we are and who we become? nature and nurture, both, not just one or the other. But…..psychopathy? that’s an evil gem that once in a while….sneaks in there and this child was psychopathic from the get go. Horrifying film to watch….horrifying. If you have someone you love or care for….love and care for them. its what keeps us and the world and others alive

  37. Bare in mind I have not read the book, so my interpretation of the characters/plot relies solely on the movie.
    That being said, I disagree with the statement that Kevin’s character is implausible. Although there were times at which I felt his behavior was a bit exaggerated and characteristic of a more fictional character (Damien, for instance), I generally viewed Kevin as having a personality disorder such as narcissism, antisocial PD, or sociopathy. This isn’t a far reach, as (like Tracy Taub asserts in her comment) personality disorders — however rare — DO exist and require a combination of nature & nurture. While Eva’s inability to bond with her son during the most crucial years of his life probably played the biggest role in his development, he may also have been simply born with a predisposition to violent, narcisstic, or antisocial behaviors. It’s possible that the writer really did intend for Kevin to come off as “evil” or demonic –it’s hard to tell because the root of his behavior and the reasoning behind his actions is never outrightly addressed. I myself, however, chalked it up to a personality disorder (which is essentially just the more scientifically based conception of “evil” that exists in many serial killers).

  38. I watched this movie 3 times, I am going to read the book. I believe he did love his mother, but really did not know how, just like Eva. Also remember when she got pregnant, she was parting, drugs, alcohol, could this also be the reason for his behavior? I personally loved the movie, it really makes you think , I have to say at the end , she finally realized she did in fact, love her son

  39. Rob says

    Meh, too many of the commentators here are blindly missing the point. Blaming Kevin either for the ‘evil gene’ or having a ‘mental illness’.

    There’s many blatant signs that Eva’s failure to connect and bond with him, her projection of, not necessarily hatred of Kevin, but resentment of the position she finds herself in post-birth all having a psychological effect on him.

    If you take a blank slate and project frustration and negativeness at it 24/7, Kevin is one potential result of that. The clues are in what happens;

    When she’s having the baby she’s not happy and cheerful as all the other mothers-to-be are. When she cradles him, she’s clueless and timid and weak, unable to sate him, whereas the father gets him calm within moments of being picked up.

    When she’s teaching him with the ball, she’s projecting her frustration. When she’s teaching him math (prior to breaking his arm) instead of praising him for counting from 1-50 she derides and belittles him.

    Every time he gets ‘love’ and ‘care’, it is when the situation gets to an extreme, Kevin projects behaviour back at Eva that he learns from her, that’s the duality we see a lot in the movie, that’s Eva’s struggle as to whether it was her behaviour that moulded Kevin as he turns out to be.

    We see it more in the teenage years, whatever bonding attempts, Kevin is the one that agrees to it, Eva is the one that botches it. The night out for dinner? They play golf, she derides his fashion choices, he wins a game, she makes a snarky remark and heads back to the car, a cold, uncompromising reaction, there’s no love, no sensation. Kevin’s reaction? Frustration, acceptance even, because he knew it would happen, so he retailiates, he eats before they go out, and what does she do? Escalates it, questions him, distrusts him, searches his room, a relationship built on resentment and rejection.

    I thought it was quite good that the end of the movie, when after 2 years apart, Kevin’s thought process kinda clicks and normalises. “I thought I knew, but now I’m not so sure.” And that comes yet again, in a moment of vulnerability, in a moment when his mother isn’t actually being a bitch.

    That isn’t to say Kevin is blameless, that isn’t to say it’s all on Eva. Eva’s story needs to be heard, the ultimate societal attainment isn’t always right, motherhood isn’t always perfect, some people don’t get it, some people clash, but far too many commentators here and elsewhere are quick to sympathise with her and just sweep the child, another victim, under the rug with nice little cop outs of ‘the evulz’ and ‘he’s nuts’, he’s not, he’s partially the product of the mother, and THAT is the true discomfort that people don’t want to face.

  40. Of course he was neurologically ill. The piercing screaming at the beginning, still in nappies at 8, or whatever age he was meant to be, the inability to bond seems to be mutual and when the woman asks the pedriatism, another expert,who is not bothered either, if it is autism, it seems she already senses of the boy is lost, lost, lost.

    It may not be called childhood schizophrenia now as well as fall short of any other known conditions in childhood where something is recognised as missing, but that something missing……..can and does seem to predispose towards, well, evil. The autobiographies of the parents who were never heard until it was too late, and perhaps the autobiographies of the child too occasionally, seem to reflect what this flick ‘knows.’

    A real-life horror.

    Perhaps out of guilt the mother us unable to set boundaries, perhaps shewas an ambivalent mother, but another real-life horror is that mother’s do not always get listened to or supported – though to be fair, it may often be the fathers who don’t get heard either.

    The actors who play Kevin were brilliant. Kevin is horribly perceptive and guns down the conventional platitudes of niceness his mother tries to express towards him, with all the cruelty we might expect from someone who is supposed to be a sociopath in the making. Some may see him in the film as a truth-sayer, who can recognise that many families and communities never truly bond, they just go through the motions of happy families. Perhaps this is why Kevin is so destructive, though his school life is not really explored. Kevin’s illness could then be perceived as an even more global social disturbance. No wonder the, that it was too big for his mother to handle alone.

  41. Jen says

    This movie was crazy, yet good. Quite disturbing at times too. I think the actors all did a superb job. It made my feelings + thoughts conflict/change towards the characters, and the story in general – whilst I watched it. Which, I guess is what a good movie does.

  42. ShelleyAnn says

    I just finished the book. It was one of the most disturbing books I have read. It is so hard to tell because it was written with Eva sending letters to Franklin her dead husband. I had such conflicting feelings throughout this book. Eva’s honesty was hard to read. How she felt about getting pregnant and being pregnant and being a mom was really tough to read. Her honestly was horribly real but I never felt that way having 4 kids of my own. I was scared and I didn’t like being pregnant but I loved and still love being a mom. She said that Kevin had a hard time from birth. Maybe he sensed it on her. I mean really who knows? I didn’t want to read anymore but something made me finish it. Wow. I find it so hard to believe what he did to his family. It was like he was trying to punish his mother for being the way she was. A distant person who should have given him lots of love and attention. However, many children grow up like that and don’t become killers. He was a very disturbed person from the get go. I have not seen the movie nor do I wish to. The book made me so sad and left me wishing in some ways I hadn’t read it. It was really disturbing but I am still left wondering about the author and his thoughts. I often wonder about authors who write such horrible yet brilliant novels. This truly was written in context to what I would not like but I read it and could not stop reading it. As I conclude, I think I may look up the author and see if I can pick his brain about his thoughts on the book and inspiration for the way he set it up etc. If anyone has any information let me know about this author. Thanks for reading.

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  44. elianedegen says

    I’m not really sure I agree with the weakness of Kevin as a character… Since everything is told from the perspective of Eva, I think we’re not watching so much an evil that defies explanation, but instead a mother that can’t really make sense of it. We’re not watching the story begin, we’re watching her recollection after the fact, tainted by the incident, so now she remembers her not planing the pregnancy, her despair at the changes of her life due to motherhood and her recalling of the child she never wanted as being evil from birth… But we don’t know how it all really happened, we’re just watching her fight to make sense of this.

  45. RitaVerdad says

    The point that is missed here is that Kevin is a psychopath. The film shows how a psychopath develops from the time they are born.Eva is recalling all the situations that were ‘red flags’, things that she presumed were ‘not right’ or ‘normal’. There is no one to blame here. Kevin was born as a natural killer.

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