If the primary goal of We Need to Talk About Kevin was to incite the audience to want to cheer when a child is thrown across the room by his mom, then mission accomplished. Never before have I seen such an unlikable character on the screen as that of the title character Kevin. Whether it be the young toddler or the teenage version, both are intolerable. I suppose that’s the point but it wasn’t one that made a great impression on me.
Eva (Tilda Swinton) and Franklin (John C. Reilly) fall in love, get married, and have a child. I think it’s a child, though one could make a strong argument that it’s a demon in a skin suit. Eva is unsure of motherhood. As a result of her trepidation she fears she may have forever ruined her relationship with her son, Kevin. Turns out some kids are plain evil, at least that’s the lesson I walked away with after watching We Need to Talk About Kevin. Great lesson, huh?
The images on the screen are often unsettling. The story is told in a time shifted manner, rapidly switching between the past and present, which adds to a disorienting feel throughout the first act. In sharp contrast is a soundtrack that plays sometimes saccharine songs against scenes of Eva living her miserable life where people recognize her in town and seem to have one of two reactions: they give her dirty looks or they try to terrorize her with punches to the face, splashing her house and car with red paint, or smashing all the eggs in her cart at the market.
As strange as the reaction from the town’s people are to Eva, the behavior of her son Kevin is even more so. As a baby he his colicky; so much so that Eva takes refuge by walking him in the stroller near a jackhammer. The sounds of breaking pavement are soothing in comparison to her son’s non-stop cries. As a toddler Kevin refuses to listen to his mom. He destroys the home in every way imaginable. While he is the devil incarnate with mom, Kevin becomes the best kid ever around dad, which it becomes apparent is only to upset mom all the more.
The shocking ending is not much of a shock considering the sheer evil Kevin displays throughout much of the movie. Tilda Swinton puts on a stellar performance as a mom rattled by the reality that she has given birth to Satan’s little helper and the negative impact he has on her from day one. Her conflicted responses to her son’s actions would be compelling if Kevin wasn’t so detestable. The ending was less surprise and more relief that there was no more time to spend with our anti-hero.